Keeping hazards at robot arm's length

July 11, 2014

DRDC technicians test the MATS robotic arm by performing various types of activities during evaluations at Suffield Research Centre.

A team of military responders hunker down behind sand bags, periodically peering over the top to watch a group of vehicles’ lights fade into the blackness of night. When the lights disappear entirely from their line of sight, the team’s focus quickly shifts back to the operator manning a control station. As if looking through a rear-view mirror they can see on the video display that the vehicle is making its way across the hilly terrain. The distance travelled on the top left-hand corner of the screen shows the vehicle is now 3 kilometres away.

Less than one kilometre away from the destination the thermal imager picks up vehicle tracks originating from the East. The tracks go underneath the locked gate and end just in front of the building. The operator reports over the radio “our suspicions have been confirmed, someone was here recently.”  The vehicle continues on and within minutes reaches the gate. With the controls at his fingertips, the operator – stationed now kilometres away – commands the vehicle’s robotic arm to reach up and unlatch the gate lock.

Using the joystick to slowly move forward, the operator drives the vehicle inside the open gate. At last all that stands between the vehicle and the source that needs removing is a heavy wooden door. With more skilful manoeuvring of the joystick, the operator swiftly moves the hydraulic arm and breaks down the door.

With the door now on the ground, the operator drives the vehicle over top of it to reach the middle of the room. The vehicle’s onboard radiation detectors have helped him locate the source of concern. The team discusses the best approach for handling and removal and the operator commands the arm to move again, this time delicately moving the source of concern to a safer location. The operator reports over the radio “task complete, requesting permission to move back to the entrance.”

While the operators and the tele-operated vehicles are real, this describes a training scenario run by two technologists with Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC).

“We delivered training to a number of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) operators during an intensive two-week Multi-Agent Tactical Sentry (MATS) driver training course,” explains Blaine Fairbrother who has worked for several years on developing MATS vehicles at Suffield Research Centre. The Next Generation MATS vehicles were delivered in October 2013 from Alberta via a CC-130 Hercules aircraft to the CAF. Shortly after, training was held for the operators so they could put the upgraded vehicles through their paces.

This new generation of MATS vehicle, the original model first fielded in 2004, is a leading example of DRDC’s ability to improve an existing system and equip it with the latest generation technology to enhance the CAF’s ability when investigating chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) incidents. The technology helps better mitigate the associated risks and take informed decisions when responding to potential threats.

“Over time, particularly in the last two years, significant vehicle enhancements resulted in the next generation MATS vehicle rolling off the lot with both improved and new functions,” describes the senior officer responsible for Force Development at Canadian Joint Incidence Response Unit (CJIRU).

“We (DRDC engineers and technologists) worked directly with CAF decision makers and users to satisfy their needs and we also proposed improvements, such as the addition of the robotic arm, in order to increase the vehicle’s functionality,” explains Fairbrother.

“Our close collaboration with DRDC engineers is extremely appreciated,” explains the senior officer at CJIRU “our direct feedback to them led to improvements tailored to our unique tasks.”  Upgrades resulting from this feedback that have enhanced the vehicles’ operational capability include the multi-functional robotic arm, digital video rather than analog, better integrated cameras with picture-in-picture capability, a 360-degree lighting package and thermal imager for night operations, pre-set options for easier command, quick-connect cable antennae for faster setup and a shock absorption mount for the chemical detector to reduce the amount of damage sustained from vehicle shake.

Designed by DRDC and built to specification by Meggitt PLC, this sophisticated vehicle supports the CAF when conducting reconnaissance, detecting chemical and radiological hazards, sampling bio threats, removing barriers and lifting heavy objects. With accessibility built into the controls, operators are able to complete their task while sitting in the vehicle’s front seat or from kilometres away using the ground control station.

“Operators, situated kilometres away, can now open gates, manhole covers, vehicle doors, and gain entry to buildings – something which before was impossible. Investigation of areas with unknown threats is critical to making informed decisions when approaching a potentially hazardous environment. It helps the operator to safely get closer to examine an object or building that otherwise wasn’t accessible in the past,” describes Fairbrother.

 According to the senior officer at CJIRU, “DRDC excels at providing cutting edge technology that allows machines to assume risks rather than putting humans in harm’s way. The addition of the robotic arm to MATS is a great example of this; now our operators can manipulate objects while staying a safe distance away. Not to mention, detecting CBRNE threats requires intense focus and machines never get distracted or fatigued during extended missions.Currently, DRDC technicians are testing the final next generation MATS vehicles which will be delivered to the CAF shortly. In addition to this, DRDC is also participating with the testing and evaluation of other types of commercial autonomous systems being considered to meet other CAF operational needs.

horizontal rule

Read More News from DRDC

Astronauts do have to be strong swimmers and comfortable in the water because much of their training take place in the pool. Thomas Karakolis swimming during one of the aptitude tests that is part of the astronaut candidate selection process.

Defence scientist was contender for spot as Canadian Astronaut

Defence Research and Development Canada scientist Thomas Karakolis was one of 72 candidates in the running to be one of the next Canadian Astronauts.
March 24, 2017

Operators from the Canadian Army’s 21 Electronic Warfare (EW) Regiment simulating offensive EW operations against virtual forces during the JNEX-1 experiments.

Canadian and Australian experts run experiments at Shirleys Bay

Canadian and Australian electronic warfare experts conducted the first Joint Non-Munitions Effects Experiment. The experiments will help the Canadian Armed Forces develop joint targeting based capabilities that help them use munitions and non-munitions based capabilities to neutralized terrorist attacks before they happen.
March 14, 2017


Statement - First workshop of the new Institute for Research in Defence and Security

Statement by Dr. Marc Fortin, Assistant Deputy Minister (Science &Technology) and Chief Executive Officer of Defence Research and Development Canada
February 27, 2017

Firefighters use foam to extinguish crude oil fire.

Exercise ATHENA photo gallery

Exercise ATHENA trains firefigheters and first responders to improve Canada's response to incidents involving flammable liquids transported by rail at the Institut maritime du Québec in Levis, Québec.
February 27, 2017

A mixed platoon of Canadian and New Zealand soldiers participating in the U.S. Joint Staff-led Exercise BOLD QUEST, a demonstration and assessment that took place from October 24 to November 3, 2016 in Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Canadian Army uses science to enhance multinational interoperability

Learn about defence scientists at the Centre for Operational Research and Analysis who evaluated technology that supports interoperability during two U.S. led multinational exercises.
January 18, 2017

See more news
Date modified: