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'Batwing' attachment adds new wrinkle to iRobot IED hunters

May. 25, 2013 - 11:27AM   |  
The modified 'batwing' design has tools to remotely defeat improvised explosive devices, including a hook for grabbing or cutting command wire, a rake for breaking up soil, and a spade for moving and digging up items.
The modified 'batwing' design has tools to remotely defeat improvised explosive devices, including a hook for grabbing or cutting command wire, a rake for breaking up soil, and a spade for moving and digging up items. (Army photo)
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There is one universal truth when dealing with explosive ordnance disposal: the farther away, the better.

The Army’s EOD iRobot 310 SUGV has helped soldiers successfully detect improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, but a new attachment known as the “batwing” is helping them do it from a safer distance.

A team from U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command at Bagram Airfield responded to a request from the 53rd Ordnance Company commander, Capt. Chad M. Juhlin, who said his unit needed an attachment to increase the iRobot model’s limited IED detection capabilities.

The robot didn’t have the physical tools needed to cut command wires or dig around an explosive site.

Engineers and technicians from the RDECOM Field Assistance in Science and Technology Center created the original “batwing” in January. It is a collapsible hook that attaches to a telescoping pole to inspect potential IED sites from a distance.

The team took the existing wire detection hook and modified it so it can attach to the iRobot’s arm. Then they upped the ante, adding a rake for breaking up soil and a spade for moving or digging up any objects that might be obscuring the explosive.

The RFAST-C simply bent and welded the existing tool into its new shape, then conducted a real-time test in Afghanistan. They revised the prototype to address some weaknesses.

“RFAST-C provides a great opportunity for soldiers on the ground to submit a requirement on the battlefield that will eventually turn into a product,” Juhlin said in an Army news release. “Having these capabilities in theater not only decreases the lead time to obtain the product, but allows for easy manipulation to the item if needed.”

Though a batwing attached to a robot’s arm can put even more distance between a soldier and an IED, according to RDECOM spokesman Roger Teel, exactly how much space is “classified,” he said.

“The batwing tool ... allows the use of a robot versus a solider to drag for a command wire,” Teel told Army Times. “Instead of being within a few feet of a potential IED, the operator can be at the far range of the communication link to the robot, far from the site if there was a detonation.”

Combined Joint Task Force Paladin, the coalition organization for anti-IED operations, has requested 50 of the new iRobot “batwings,” plus 10 on hand with the 53rd Ordnance Company.

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