Urban warfare operations may become just a little less dangerous for our Marines in the near future. Why? Because a bunch of researchers at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute in Pittsburgh, Pensylvania have teamed up with the United States Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) in Quantico Virginia to create a small, lightweight little Mighty Mouse of a prototype “concept demonstrator” robot called the Dragon Runner Mobile Ground Sensor System (or just “Dragon Runner”, for short), which is a man-portable mobile reconnaissance/scout robot (or “bot”), that will travel at up to 20 miles per hour and allow our Marines to “see around the corner” in urban combat/warfare environments. Dragon Runner is part of The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory’s (MCWL) Project Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition, or Project RSTA, for short. According to the Project RSTA fact sheet, “Project RSTA is an umbrella project that experiments with reconnaissance and surveillance concepts and integrates successful concepts into the Expeditionary Force Development System (EFDS)”.
At 15.5″ long, 11.25″ wide, and 5″ high, with an overall weight of 16 lbs, Dragon Runner is one tough little low-signature/low-observable (quiet and small) cookie. Basically, the little recon bot is designed to be treated like the proverbial “redheaded stepchild”. More specifically, it’s designed to withstand…
being tossed over walls, chucked out of windows, and heaved over stairs and other obstacles, and then sent off on its way, looking for badguys. A non-active, invertible suspension and durable overall construction allow Dragon Runner to withstand and inordinate amount of physical abuse and continue to operate no matter how it lands. According to Capt. Dave Moreau, project officer for Dragon Runner at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL), “there’s no right side up” with Dragon Runner and it’s successfully handled being thrown off the back of a moving vehicle at 45 miles per hour.
Hagen Schempf is a principle research/systems scientist at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, and Dragon Runner’s chief architect (designer/developer). According to Schempf, “Dragon Runner is the lightest, smallest, most rugged, readily portable robot system for remote scouting operations in existence today.” Schempf goes on to say that “it has the potential to be the eyes and ears of the Marines in forward urban operations, allowing them to gather intelligence without being in harm’s way. It is a tool that reduces potential lethal exposure to our troops by reducing the amount of time that they expose themselves to danger.”
So it can “sneak and peak”, Dragon Runner is outfitted with a small video camera, an audio mic, IR (infrared) illuminators (for night operations), and IR sensors (for obstacle avoidance), and is controlled remotely by a single operator via a control unit tethered to Dragon Runner’s nifty carry backback by an expandable cord that looks like a much thicker version of the cord that connects a phone handset to its base on a normal house phone. Since most Marines today have most likely grown up gaming with Sony Playstation2, Microsoft XBox, and Nintendo, controlling Dragon Runner is most likely a relative piece of cake.
Currently, the complete Dragon Runner Mobile Ground Sensor System, including remote control unit and backpack, costs $46,000. If and when Dragon Runner goes into volume production, however, Moreau says that the price-per-unit is likely to drop 40 to 50 percent. The following is how the United States Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) Dragon Runner page describes the Dragon Runner Mobile Ground Sensor System:
“[Summary] Dragon Runner is a small, four-wheeled, rear-wheel drive, front-wheel steer, man-portable mobile ground sensor designed to increase situational awareness. It will give tactical Marine units the capability to “see around the corner” in an urban environment. Dragon Runner is part of the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s Project RSTA, an effort to develop a reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition network of sensors that portrays a picture of the battlespace, enabling enhanced situational awareness for small unit leaders.
Background: Small, tactical units rely on their eyes and ears for force protection and reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition information. In today’s battlespaces, small unit leaders increasingly enter urban or complex hostile environments and encounter life-threatening situations. The Warfighting Lab recognized that tactical units need a small, low-risk capability to conduct RSTA and enhance small unit force protection to reduce danger to Marines. A Universal Needs Statement was developed that identified the requirement for a family of RSTA sensors. Dragon Runner aims to address a number of these capability requirements.
Dragon Runner is managed and partially funded by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab. The Office of Naval Research also provides funding and the system is being built by the Naval Research Laboratory and Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute.
Description: Dragon Runner will increase a Marine’s situational awareness by providing observation of tactical objectives and potential danger areas beyond his line of sight where human access is impractical or unsustainable. The system will enhance force protection by standing watch in “Sentry Mode” by using several on-board sensors to provide real-time imagery and audio alerts. The prototype Dragon Runner Mobile Ground Sensor System consists of a mobile ground sensor vehicle, a small operator control unit and a simple user interface. It includes video, audio, and motion sensors and the capability to collect imagery during daylight and darkness. The system will be easy to operate, requiring little formal operator training.
At 15.5 inches long, 11.25 inches wide and five inches high, Dragon Runner will fit inside the standard Modular, Light Weight, Load Carrying Equipment (MOLLE) Patrol Pack. The total system will weigh 16 pounds. A non-active and invertible suspension enables Dragon Runner to be tossed through windows, up stairs or over walls for a rapid deployment capability. The user interface features a four-inch video display and home-gaming type controller for vehicle manipulation. The entire system uses standard military radio-type batteries for its power supply.
Deliverable Product: The prototype Dragon Runner system will be a baseline concept demonstrator for the material developer.”
Click here to view Hagen Schempf’s homepage. You can contact Hagen Shempf, Ph.D. by phone at 412-268-6884, or via email at email@example.com. Hagen is a principle research/systems scientist at the Field Robotics Center at The Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, and chief architect (designer/developer) of Dragon Runner.