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Modular Robotic Payloads (2002)

This section features some fiberglass payloads I constructed for the first-generation prototype of the Mobile Detection Assessment Response System (MDARS), a diesel-powered autonomous security robot developed by General Dynamics Robotic Systems and our lab for the US Army.  The below images show our man-portable Urban Robot (URBOT) backing up into a fiberglass marsupial carrier attached to the back of the MDARS robot during a demonstration for Brigadier General Stephen Reeves. The carrying handle on the URBOT, seen between the rear of the tracks in the right photo, would mate with a gate latch inside the carrier to secure the small robot when fully stowed.  

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Once the MDARS vehicle had delivered the URBOT to its desired release location (see below), the solenoid-actuated gate latch was triggered by the remote operator, allowing the battery-powered robot to make an automated descent to ground contact.  The remote operator took over at this point and drove the URBOT free of the marsupial carrier using video feedback. The marsupial carrier could also be attached to the back of man-driven vehicles to facilitate robotic deployment/recovery/recharging without human exposure in hostile environments.

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The above figures also show a non-lethal pepper-ball gunpod mounted on top of the MDARS vehicle.  I fabricated the cowling for this modular payload out of fiberglass, using rolled up poster paper as a temporary form for the cylinder, held rigid from the inside by a plastic trashbag filled with water.  As it was wintertime, an immersion heater was used to warm the water to expedite curing of the polyester resin. I turned a wooden mold on the lathe for casting the top of the cowling, then joined the two pieces together to form the final assembly.

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On 19 July 2002, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich visited our lab on a fact-finding mission for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (see below).  His objective was to investigate promising technologies that could lead to significant operational advantages for our warfighters in theater. A key demonstration along these lines was the man-portable URBOT, which had already deployed to both the World Trade Center and Operation Enduring Freedom, with special focus on the marsupial-carrier payload.

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Another top-mounted modular payload was the launch fixture for a vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) unmanned air vehicle (UAV), shown below during tethered testing of the Allied Aerospace iStar UAV, initially developed for DARPA.  

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Following these feasibility tests, the initial three-spoke fiberglass launch fixture (above) was immediately expanded to a six-spoke design for added stability (below), and a solenoid-actuated hold down was added in the center to allow the UAV to reach full power before liftoff.  These changes eliminated observed problems associated with the UAV’s inherent susceptibility to crosswinds when temporarily neutrally buoyant during the takeoff evolution.

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Based on valuable lessons learned from the easily modified fiberglass prototype, an optimized all-metal design was constructed by Aaron Burmeister, our lead mechanical engineer, which provided for automated launch, recovery, and refueling of the iStar UAV.  The launch-and-recovery mechanism occupied the top payload mount, while the refueling support module was attached to the rear payload mount as shown below.

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