Inside Unmanned Systems

JUN-JUL 2017

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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18 unmanned systems inside   April/May 2017 LAND GROUND VEHICLES   June/July 2017 Photos courtesy of Ghost Robotics. ty less, you can make the walls steeper and the depths deeper and still be profitable. Robotics become the more obvious choice to work in a mining site." To perform any of these missions, the machines must know their location in the mine at all times relative to other machines, said Jim Hawkins, di- rector of the Machine Design Center at Caterpillar. Caterpillar's Cat Command, a suite of autonomy technologies, employs LiDARs, radars and GPS to do that, ensuring the vehicles operate safely. Many mining sites are facing shortages of skilled labor, Torrie said, which is another reason UGVs are attractive. The sites are often located in remote ar- eas, and it's not easy to find workers who are willing to travel to them. With UGVs, mining firms have more ways to up productivity. "Autonomy allows miners to get more done with fewer machines, consuming fewer resources through their cradle to grave life cycle," Hawkins said. "Autonomy also reduces the number of people who need to be transported and who need to live in a remote environment. It significantly improves safety by removing people from the active mining area and by increased process consistency." While mines are starting to show interest in UGVs and some are already using them, imple- menting these vehicles does come with chal- lenges, Baranov said. Robots actually tend to be more cautious than humans, he said, and do their best to avoid sustaining any kind of damage. For example, traditional vehicles often need to drive close to the wall to perform a task—and that means they're going to get scraped. It's difficult for a UGV to identify when a scrape is OK and when there's actual danger, so in some cases they tend to drive slower than a human would. That said, the technology already exists to fully au- tomate a mine today. The main challenges to making it happen, Hawkins said, are social and political. "A mining company's license to operate is primar- ily based upon the economic benefit the mine brings to the local community," Hawkins said. "Reducing the number of machine operators appears contrary to that aim. But the reality is that automation brings great benefits in the forms of safety, global competi- T he Ghost Minitaur from Ghost Robotics is a legged platform that can run, jump and even climb in difficult outdoor terrain. Still in the development stages, the robot is meant to be an affordable solution for a variety of commercial and military applications. High-speed and high- resolution encoders make it possible for the robot to feel the ground directly through the motors, which behave like springs, and then quickly adapt. The small unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) is lightweight and portable, CEO Jiren Parikh said, and the prototype version will sell for between $10,000 and $15,000. The lower cost is possible because of the company's software. "It's taken a lot of work on the software to make these platforms with legs on them and a frame with custom electronics to do all these things at a low price point," Parikh said. "It's minimalist in design. We ripped out the complexities, like spring hydraulics and gear boxes, and mimicked everything with the software. It can jump and walk upstairs, and it does it all through the software. We took out all the complexity and built algorithms to control the robot." Now only does that make these robots less expensive to manufacture, it also saves on maintenance and repair costs, Parikh said. Parikh sees the agile robots being equipped with sensors enabling them to detect hazardous materials for fire departments or to effectively monitor construction sites as they traverse debris or rough ground. They might perform security duties at an oil refinery or inspect pipes. Once the company develops a robotic arm, the robots also could take samples and perform gas readings. The systems could scan the inside of buildings and capture images for insurance purposes, as well as take soil samples and perform other tasks on a farm. There are many possibilities, and because of the lower price point, companies could have the ability to send multiple robots out for monitoring or various other applications. Research and development began about four years ago, Parikh said, with the first prototypes released early last year and sent to various universities and other customers. A version for the enterprise market robot is expected to be released at the end of 2018, with the robot designed for military applications expected to be available in 2019. There's also plans for a smaller, less expensive version. Eventually, the robots will come in a portfolio of different sizes. UGV s WITH LEGS This legged platform from Ghost Robotics can run, jump and climb, even in difficult terrain.

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