July 14, 2006 The recent biannual European Land Robot Trials (ELROB) at the Hammelburg Army Base in Germany saw some pretty remarkable ground robots unveiled to the assembled, military, and none was more impressive than the new Spybot 4WD from MacroSwiss. The new Spyrobot is an evolution of the Spybot Mk II, with higher payload and 4WD terrain handling capabilities. Though the unit is quite small and weighs just 6 kg, its cross-country mobility is extraordinary due to its patent-pending flexible Flapper Wheels. The wheels, which function somewhere between riverboat paddle wheels and motocross knobby tyres combine with a robust, fully-sealed construction to enable it to navigate waterways, descend stairs, climb slippery 45 degree slopes, or survive being tossed up to 10 metres. The ingenious wheel design enables them to act as shock absorber, suspension, stabilizer and get enough traction to handle extreme obstacles, such as the “potato field” obstacle course at ELROB where the little feller severely embarassed robots several factors more expensive.
The Spybot 4WD can run at 10 km/h, and operate up to 400 metres from the control unit for up to four hours thanks to its Lithium Polymer batteries. And all the while, the unit relays or records (on-board recording capability) video information from the two high-res low-light cameras. A typical use would be a patrol mission in with armoured vehicle where the robot could be deployed from the vehicle (without need to exit the armoured protection) and driven into a dangerous area to check if it is free of enemy presence before entering.
At ELROB, the unit managed to climb the toughest ramps (over 45° in angle and with slippery surfaces) and crossed soft mud fields which were a major obstacle for several other competitors. It was also capable of entering a small river and navigating it both upstream and downstream thanks to its fully sealed construction, floatability and the Flapper Wheel design.
At ELROB, visitors were also impressed by the ease of driving (no training necessary) and the low weight of the robot (under 6 kg.). The Spyrobot can be used for over three hours at full speed in rough terrain without showing any loss of power and can sit quietly and transmit video for up to eight hours. Its long range and outstanding performance in low signal areas, make it capable of operating up to 400 meters distance in non-urban scenarios and 150 meters in fully built up urban environment. Besides, the unit survives tosses up to 10 meters distance and full speed descents from stair cases.
The unit also has automatic image orientation function so that when it gets upside down, the operator doesn’t need to turn the video receiver upside down too. Though it’s designed to carry a minimal level of weaponization, it is quite capable of carrying enough weaponry to defend itself.