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Steadying the business end of a bomb disposal robot

18 December 2012

A high performance linear actuator is helping bomb disposal teams to cope with the increasingly complex problems they are encountering in theatre and during counter-terrorism missions. The actuator is a vital part of Coventry based Remotec UK’s new Cutlass – the latest generation of vehicle-mounted robots for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), which is currently being supplied to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and security services.

HT Servo’s actuator provides extra power to Cutlass’s robotic arm, enabling it to lift large loads
HT Servo’s actuator provides extra power to Cutlass’s robotic arm, enabling it to lift large loads

The Cutlass vehicles will be used by the MoD for anti-terrorism operations and EOD operations at home and abroad. The range of EOD activities is surprisingly broad. In addition to terrorism, crime and occasions such as failures in demolition projects and quarrying will require an emergency response. Even collections of ordnance being kept in homes can sometimes pose problems!

Eighty Cutlasses have been ordered initially, which are being phased into service, with further orders expected to follow from a range of buyers. Cutlass is the primary replacement for Remotec’s Wheelbarrow remote EDO vehicle design, which has done sterling service in Northern Ireland and elsewhere since the 1970s.

Cutlass offers the latest technology in a modular design, accommodating a wide range of payloads, sensors and tools. The manipulator arm is equipped with a state-of-the-art gripper and has nine degrees of freedom for greater movement and agility inside limited spaces, such as the interior of a car.

An actuator, supplied by HT Servo, is used to lift the whole robotic arm and provide extra power to the internal base axis rotator gear. This maximises its performance and helps counteract the turning moment created when a load is carried with the arm in an extended position. HT Servo’s David Baillie takes up the story:

“This sort of project usually requires a bespoke solution, and we worked closely with the Remotec design team to identify maximum loads, speed requirements and other operating parameters. The best outcome would be to customise a standard actuator, to help contain costs, and fortunately the Thomson Electrak LA14 fitted the bill nicely. We paired this with an extra powerful motor and made a few other modifications commensurate with the likely operating conditions that Cutlass will likely encounter.”

The actuator features an integral anti-rotation mechanism and is based on a screw drive system, offering reliability, high load bearing capacity and long service life. It is housed within a tough, lightweight aluminium cover tube with T-slots on two sides that can be used for mounting and the location of magnetic position sensors.

The robot can either creep along at slow speeds for delicate operations, or accelerate to high speeds to enable rapid deployment. The six-wheeled design offers mobility on all types of hard and soft terrain and in all weather conditions, including floods.

QinetiQ is providing the vehicle command and control systems. The user-friendly operator command console combines manual commands with advanced software to provide the unprecedented functionality required for such a demanding mission environment. All motion axes, including the six drive wheels on the Cutlass are electrically driven, powered by an on-board lithium ion rechargeable battery. David Baillie concludes:

“You feel a certain pride working on a job like this, especially when you are watching the evening news and you unexpectedly see a Cutlass being used for real.”

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