Robotics Technologies Devised for Defense, Decontamination

To automatically rearm a cannon, the end section of the robotic arm approaches docking with a howitzer port. The inset shows the port's sensors that make a pattern for the arm's "eyes" to see and recognize as the docking point. On the battlefield infrared sensors will enable docking without detection by the enemy. Photograph by Tom Cerniglio.

Picture a battlefield in the late 20th century. Without armored protection, soldiers in a truck locate ammunition, prepare it for firing, hop out, and manually reload a howitzer—a cannon mounted on a tracked vehicle that fires shells with a medium velocity and high trajectory. They look around nervously, hoping they don't get hit by an enemy projectile.

Now, picture a battlefield in the early 21st century. A self-propelled howitzer and a companion ammunition resupply vehicle roll across the ground. A robotic arm that "sees" through computer vision technologies delivers it to the howitzer. No soldiers are in sight; they are hidden inside the armored vehicle. Rearming weapons systems has become safer and more efficient.

We developed technologies for the Army to
automatically and safely reload cannons.

This 21st-century robotics technology has already arrived and is maturing at ORNL. On November 28, 1995, ORNL demonstrated an automated ammunition processing, handling, and delivery system for a project manager of the U.S. Army. Called the Crusader system, it combines a self-propelled howitzer and a vehicle to rearm it. The Army plans to field this weapons system in 2005.

ORNL has developed several technologies for the Crusader system. They are

The technologies have met Crusader System requirements for increased efficiency in operation and armored protection for soldiers during the automated rearm process. Demonstration of the Crusader system technologies was the culmination of a three-year, $15-million collaborative effort of engineers, computer specialists, and technicians from eight ORNL divisions.

Besides defense, we are devising robotics technologies for the decontamination and dismantlement of reactors and other radioactive equipment. On September 19, 1995, our robotic and remote-handling systems developed for this purpose were demonstrated for DOE.

When remotely operated machines are needed to do work too hazardous for humans, ORNL is an important part of the picture.

Funding for this work was provided by the U.S. Army and DOE's Office of Environmental Management.


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