By David Crane
defrev (at) gmail (dot) com
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November 25, 2012
Last updated on 11/25/12.
DefenseReview (DR) recently got a chance to watch the RoboteX AVATAR II Micro Tactical Robot in action on the small exhibition floor at HALO Counter-Terrorism Summit 2012, and we were glad we did. The little UGV (unmanned ground vehicle), designed and developed for use by military general infantry and Special Operations Forces (SOF) and law enforcement SWAT operators conducting urban warfare and tactical operations respectively, is the latest, most advanced model of a RoboteX tactical reconnaissance/surveillance/weaponized robot evolution that DR first encountered in a small office on January 13, 2008 in sunny Palo Alto, CA.
The earlier model we saw then was a simpler, less agile tracked robot without the AVATAR II's front-articulated or rear-stabilizing flippers. Defense Review also remembers the earlier seeming larger, but we may be mistaken. The Avater II's releatively small size means it can get into a lot of places, but weaponization capablity may be limited. If you want to mount an a select-fire 5.56mm NATO (5.56x45mm)/.223 Rem., 300 AAC Blackout (300BLK) or 6.8mm SPC (6.8x43mm) short barreled rifle (SBR)/sub-carbine, the Avatar II may be able to handle it, but DR doesn't know if it can handle much more than that level payload. It's doubtful it could even handle carrying the relatively compact and lightweight ARES-16 MCR/AMG-series belt fed LMG/SAW, at least not with a significant ammo supply on board. MMG/GPMG's like the FN M249 SAW/MK46 MOD 1 5.56mm NATO, FN MK48 MOD 1 7.62mm NATO (7.62x51mm NATO)/.308 Win. and U.S. Ordnance M60E4/MK43 MOD 1 Commando 7.62mm NATO belt-fed machine gun would appear to be out of the question, so hopefully there's a larger-weapons-capable model AVATAR. If a 5.56mm SBR can be adequately mounted and stabilized (and that's a BIG "if"), DR would recommend a FERFRANS SOAR-P with SureFire MAG5-100 HCM 100-shot magazine, or at least a SureFire MAG5-60 HCM 60-rounder installed for maximum on-board firepower. The SOAR-P's low cyclic rate of fire (ROF) makes it the ideal tactical AR SBR for this purpose. Our intuition tells us that the Avatar II's small size will be problematic for any type of SBR weaponization, however. If you want any kind of significant lethality aspect, you're probably going to need a bigger bot.
That written, weaponized robots have been problematic to say the least. The now-ancient Foster-Miller (now Qinetiq) Talon/SWORDS UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicle), for example, not only went out of control at a NDIA Infantry Small Arms Systems Symposium range demonstration a number of years back, but some have dubbed them "Taliban resupply vehicles" for the ease in which they can be disabled and pilfered by the enemy in the field. The latter is due to a number of issues, including the lack of a 360-degree panoramic camera and controller display screen (preferably very-high-resolution for both) for tactical situational awareness, radio communications failure between the robot and the controller, and other factors. The loss of positive control over a weaponized robot is no small matter. At the NDIA show, the Talon/SWORDs reportedly sweapt the audience with its machine gun and had to be wrestled to the ground by an Army Special Forces operator.
No doubt, the technology's improved since then, but is it where it needs to be for successful weaponization and operations in an environment like Afghanistan? That's doubtful.
But back to the RoboteX AVATAR 2 Tactical Robot, which is just a tactical surveillance robot with live video/two-way-audio system for sneaking and peaking/listening and talking for enhanced tactical awareness in an urban combat environment. For it's intended mission profile, the Avatar II would appear to be as good or better than anything out there within its price point.
The AVATAR II has both a drive camera and a 360-degree PTZ (Pan/Tilt/Zoom) camera. One or both of these cameras supposedly has automatic thermal/IR (Infrared) capability, but DR forgot to ask about this aspect. PTZ isn't the same as 360-degree constant panoramic vision, but it's certainly better than no 360-degree camera. The little bot also has an IR illuminator and high-intensity visible light beam for enhanced tactical illumination in daytime and nighttime scenarios.
If you need a manipulation arm the AVATAR's got that, too–at additional cost, of course. If the robot itself is any indication, the manipulation arm is probably pretty good. DR just didn't get to see it in operation, so we can't attest to it.
The combination of the AVATAR II Micro Tactical Robot's "toe-in-track" off-parralel tracks, rugged "no-jam" track system and front-articulated and rear-stabilizing flippers makes it just about as agile as it can possibly be for a robot of this size and configuration. The Avatar II has can climb a 60-degree incline, including stairs, and self-right itself, no problem. DefenseReview witnessed and filmed some of the Avatar II's agility at HALO (see video clips below). The only mini/micro tactical recon (reconnaissance) bot with an agility advantage over the AVATAR II would appear to be the Precision Urban Hopper (PUH) jumping/hopping robot. Could this type of technology be integrated into the AVATAR II, or perhaps a smaller Robotex robot?
Even better, the RoboteX AVATAR II Micro Tactical Robot, while it won't float, is waterproof! So, you have to go underwater with it, you can. The robot can go down to six feet (6ft), stay there "for a long, long time", and continue to roll along the bottom as long as it can continue to get a radio signal.
DR is curious as to whether or not the Avatar 2 will be capable of communicating with other robots and swarming in the battlespace, not just with other RoboteX robots, but also with other manufacturer's ground robots/UGVs and sUAS/UAS/UAVs. For example, will the Avatar II eventually be capable of swarming with products like the Qinetiq MAARS, iRobot 510 PackBot, Qinetic Dragon Runner, ReconRobotics Recon Scout IR, BCB/AAI SQ-4 RECON SUAS and Datron Scout Air Reconnaissance System (ARS) SUAS? Not that swarming is necessarily necissary, of course. Manual integration of UGVs and UAS/UAVs in the battlespace can also be quite effective, with the additional advantage of human beings having positive control at all times (barring malfunctions).
Also, where does the RoboteX AVATAR 2 Micro Tactical Robot fit in niche-wise in the tactical robotics marketplace, and how does it perform versus the other mini/micro-ground robots/UGVs for military and law enforcement applications in a side-by-side? From what DR's understands, at approximately $12,500 USD, it's essentially a significantly less-expensive (and perhaps even more agile?) alternative to the 510 PackBot (unconfirmed/unverified), so it will probably be a significantly more cost-effective solution for non-military customers like law enforcement organizations. However, we don't yet have firm pricing on the PackBot.
From watching the Avatar II Micro zoom around at HALO, we must say it's one zippy, agile litte tactical recon bot. Assuming it works as advertised and proves reliable and durable in the field, it will probably do well in battle and tactical environments, and probably deserves to be a winner in the tactical robotics marketplace. Time and money will tell.
DR wonders if its possible to make the Avatar II's motor and tracks quieter for stealthier operation and enhanced survivability. For visual stealth, some kind of multi-spectrum adaptive camouflage system that incorporates daytime/visible light, thermal/IR (Infrared) and near-IR/I2 (Image Intensification)/night vision camouflage would be optimal. Hyperstealth's Quantum Stealth (QS) adaptive camo technology would appear to be a potentially viable solution, assuming it's legit. At present, the only thing the Avatar has going for it in the area of stealth is it's relatively small size, but it's not invisible or all that quiet. If bad guys/enemy combatants can hear it or see it coming, they're probably going to shoot it.
Editor's Note: DefenseReview will try to reach the principals at Robotex to glean some more information for a follow-up article on this or another Robotex product.
The following technical information comes from the RoboteX website:
"The AVATAR® II is a rugged, easy-to-use tactical robot that enhances the capabilities of law enforcement and first-responders by allowing them to safely and quickly inspect dangerous situations. SWAT and tactical teams from around the world are using the AVATAR – and with its market-beating affordability, so can you.
– Drive Camera
– Built-In IR Light
– High-Intensity Front Headlight
– 360 Degree PTZ Camera
– Front Articulated Flippers
– Rear Stabilizing Flippers
– Two-Way Audio
– Patented "Toe-in-Track" Design
– Easy-Open Battery Bay
– Durable Monostructure Composite Chassis
– High-Powered Wi-Fi Radio
– Powerful Drivetrain Motors
– Payload Expansion Bay
– Easy-to-use handheld controller
– 4-5 hour battery life
– Physical Dimensions: 24.41 in x 15.35 in x 6.14 in
– 300 meter operating range – Reliable brushless motors
– Durable composite chassis
– Lightweight and portable (weighs 25 lbs.)
– Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery
– Secure Wi-Fi Radio Signal (2.4GHz)
– Wireless video and audio transmission
– “Toe-in-Track Design” features slightly off-parallel tracks for improved maneuverability
– Stair climbing ability (up to 60 degree incline)
– Self-rights if flipped upside down
– Rugged “no jam” track system
– All-terrain navigation (dirt, grass, sand, gravel, clothing, water)
– Handheld touchscreen controller – Live video and audio with automatic IR
– Two-way audio functionality
– Video and audio recording capability
– Easy setup and operation
– Separate wireless channels for running multiple robots simultaneously
– SWAT and tactical callouts
– Serving high-risk warrants
– Responding to domestic disturbances
– Remotely communicating with potentially hostile subjects
– Searching for missing persons in dangerous situations
– Rapidly investigating suspicious packages and vehicles
– Monitoring a large perimeter and checking an area for hazards
– Hazardous fume/material detection"
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