As robotics, automation and autonomous robotics eventually reach consumers in numbers, we will find uses for cost-efficient, energy-efficient, systems that we have yet to conseive. As the robotic age dawns though, there are already some compelling advantages to using robots. The US Army is using robots to reduce the dangers to Explosive Ordnance Disposal in Baghdad.
BAGHDAD, Iraq January 13, 2005 - Whenever an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician heads downrange, one thing is certain: the robot goes first.
"The cost of losing a robot is not nearly as close as losing a trained EOD person," said Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Carroll, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 184th Ordnance Battalion, an EOD Robotics team from Fort Gillem, Ga., deployed to Baghdad. "Time on target is our biggest danger, and these robots eliminate us from having to go downrange if we don't have to."
Since their EOD inception, robotic systems have saved numerous lives by helping to wipe away the threat of improvised explosive devices and vehicle- orne IEDs encountered daily throughout the Iraqi theater of operations.
Not surprisingly, 95 percent of all EOD robots are used for reconnaissance missions and delivering explosives to the hazard for detonation, said Carroll.
"We wouldn't have EOD guys if we didn't have robots to take the hit," he explained about the constant number of IED casualties along main supply routes and in close-quarter urban areas. "These robots are a human cost-saving mechanism."
In addition to taking an IED blast, EOD robots also get shot at by small arms fire, added Carroll.
These "man-portable" robots, initially employed by infantry units for advance scouting purposes, dually serve as multi-versatile, lightweight machines supplementing EOD teams on the roads of Iraq.
"The IED threat is so critical," said Cpt. Jason Souza, officer in charge of the 184th EOD Robotics team. He added that the EOD missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan have exceeded the demand for robots.
The robots, able to be thrown in the back of a chopper or tactical vehicle with ease, each consist of thousands of interlocking parts. They are primarily designed as a track vehicle with a retractable arm claw and camera, and are also capable of being armed with a grenade launcher or other infantry arsenals.
"You put this [robot] on the ground, and people know who you are," said Carroll about EOD. "[Iraqi] kids go 'Boom! Boom!' when they see us because they know an explosion is going to happen. People start to scatter."
Common city obstacles such as getting over a curb or wading through a foot of sewer water are often overcome with the remote control expertise of a skilled EOD technician, but sometimes a bomb blast can get the best of the robot's size, strength and dexterity.
"One lady came back (to the robot repair depot) with only two tracks in her hands," said Marine Master Sgt. Thomas Bogosh, senior noncommissioned officer of the Joint Robotic System Repair Station in Iraq. "They weren't even whole tracks, only parts of them."
His repair station workers, many of whom are former Army and Air Force, work to salvage destroyed robot parts, some still covered in white phosphorous and oil.
But whatever the hurdles, the EOD teams who are out making a safer Iraq are doing so by learning from each other.
"(EOD) is a joint service environment, but we're definitely one team, one fight," said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jennifer Smith, EOD information technician. "We're a tight community which shares a lot of information with each other. Whoever needs equipment, gets equipment in EOD."
EOD technicians are schooled on many different types of robots in case the one they prefer is in the repair shop.
A well-working, repairable robot completes more than 1,000 missions during its theater tenure.
The missions wear and tear these battle droids more than in the United States, said Bogosh.
"A year's worth of work back home is equal to one day in Iraq for these robots," he said.
(Editor's note: Spc. Jonathan Montgomery serves with the Multinational Corps - Iraq Public Affairs Office.)