RE2 Robotics has received an award to develop an inflatable Underwater Dual Manipulator system for the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR).
Bomb disposal is a job best left to the robots. The Underwater Dual Manipulator system is designed to dismantle improvised explosive devices (IEDs) stashed away under boats, bridges, piers, and other underwater structures that regular bomb robots just can’t get to.
Given the watery environment they’ll be operating in, both the inner workings and outer coverings of the inflatable arms will be made of soft materials, and the rig will be attached to an existing Navy Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV). This would allow it to be deployed and controlled remotely from the water’s surface.
“Developing the prototype for this program is unlike any robotic arm development that we’ve completed over the past 15 years of robotic manipulator arm engineering,” said Dr Andrew Mor, Principal Investigator for the program, in an interview with New Atlas. “Developing this type of robotic arm is extremely cutting edge and novel, not only for RE2 Robotics, but for the industry.”
RE2 first won the Navy contract to create the system back in October 2015, and since then has sketched out a design for an underwater dexterous manipulation system that it says is light-weight and low-cost. Now it’s moving into Phase II, which involves building a prototype, integrating it into an existing UUV and testing it in a controlled underwater environment.
The ONR Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award will let the researchers work out how to tackle some of the unique challenges that come from performing such delicate operations underwater.
Besides bomb disposal, the Underwater Dual Manipulator system could lend a hand to other watery tasks, like performing underwater inspections, maintenance and repairs for offshore gas and oil rigs.
Image and excerpt credits: RE2 Robotics/New Atlas