Published March 29, 2012
Six feet tall, made of aluminum and bench-pressing 500 pounds, this isn’t your average teddy bear.
The Bear robot, so named for its cutesy bear-like face, designed to be familiar and reassuring, is agile, strong and capable of lifting and then carrying an injured fighter out of harm’s way.
But this is no robo-doc, at least not yet. It won’t apply tourniquets or sweep for bullets on a fallen buddy anytime soon. A unit with a Bear tagalong would instead be able to deploy it to recover a casualty rather than having to dismount or even drive to the site, thereby reducing risk to personnel, and potentially freeing up more time for real medics.
And a next-generation Bear could potentially administer basic first aid, including affixing a tourniquet, the company says.
The Bear from Vecna Robotics is supported by the U.S. Army's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC), a part of the Army’s Medical Research and Material Command (USAMRMC), as well as the U.S. Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA).
The robot has three components: dynamic balancing behavior, a hydraulic-controlled upper body, and an agile mobility platform with two independent sets of tracks that act as “legs.”
An operator controls the Bear remotely with a joystick, mobile device, game console or computer, using cameras and microphones that allow him to see and hear what the Bear sees and hears.
The current prototype is fitted with maneuverable hands so Bear can more gently scoop up casualties -- with arms so strong just one of the six-inch fingers can lift a 100-pound weight ten times a second, yet so gentle they can handle eggs and lightbulbs, Vecna says.
Tight doorways and stairs aren’t a problem for this Bear. It’s narrow enough to squeeze through, and even make stairs look easy while carrying a human-sized dummy.
Bear can effortlessly shift between terrains; while on smooth surfaces it uses wheels. But when it encounters rubble, it can switch to kneeling tracked “legs.” The gyro-balance system and two-wheeled tracked base provide Bear with considerable mobility for uneven, rough terrain.
When speed is necessary, it also provides dynamic balancing for high-speed mobility. Bear currently cruises at 8 to 10 miles an hour, but Vecna says this could be easily be cranked up if needed.
The latest Bear has far more autonomy than earlier models. It can get from A to B on its own in an unstructured environment. And it can identify, grasp, lift, and carry objects on its own.
To keep a low profile on the battlefield, Vecna plans a segmented track to allow the robot to tilt forward or backward, bend at the knees to collect a casualty, and even crawl.
The segmented design will also help the robot to recover after being knocked over from any position, or from falling over.
In fact, the Bear is so jam-packed with remarkable advancements that components of it have been routinely spun off to launch other programs, such as QC Bot, supported by the same heavy hitting sponsors.
Spin-offs make sense: As an agile robot capable of heavy lifting, Bear has a range of potential applications. It could move patients in hospitals or inspect mine safety conditions. Or it could be a first responder, handling hazardous materials safely.
Bear is currently aluminum, but could very easily be armored up and outfitted against chemical and biological agents.
Vecna is currently working on Bear version 8.0, which introduces a significant upgrade in terms of speed, agility and packaging. Another key advancement: this cute fellah will finally be able to get wet and work out in the rain.
Daniel Theobald, chief technical officer and inventor of the system, said “there’s nothing else like in on the planet.”
A lot of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) are one-trick ponies. This Bear is more than the average mule.
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has travelled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie