Researchers gather feedback from robotic chem-bio sensor users

The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center featured the Rapid Area Sensitive-site Reconnaissance Advanced Technology Demonstration at the Team CBRNE Capability Showcase Aug. 5-6 where partners in government, industry and academia attended to learn more about chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosives technologies. (U.S. Army photo)

The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center featured the Rapid Area Sensitive-site Reconnaissance Advanced Technology Demonstration at the Team CBRNE Capability Showcase Aug. 5-6 where partners in government, industry and academia attended to learn more about chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosives technologies. (U.S. Army photo)

ECBC Public Affairs

Soldiers entering a building suspected of chemical contamination are exposed to an unpredictable environment with potentially hostile forces. Inconclusive information and a lack of concrete data make it difficult for them to make timely decisions during a critical mission.

Army researchers are working on technology solutions to give Soldiers key information to keep them safe from chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosives threats.

The future of chem-bio detection is wrapped in the evolution of technology, according to experts from the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

The center is demonstrating advanced detection equipment for sensitive-site assessments where the threat is likely, but remains unknown.

Robotics play a key role in surveying sensitive sites remotely through an automated means known as Rapid Area Sensitive-site Reconnaissance, or RASR. This advanced technology demonstration is an integrated system equipped with a special sensor that uses a powerful near-infrared laser to scan for and identify potentially hazardous materials using Raman spectroscopy. The Avalon sensor can be mounted on an unmanned ground vehicle such as the iRobot PackBot 510, or be used by the warfighter as a hand-held detector.

“The mission space we’re looking at is for sensitive-site assessments using a downrange chemical detection capability,” said Matt Brown, extended user evaluation lead for the project. “We provided a complete RASR system to a Marine Corps unit and an Army unit for the past year.”

The system is capable of rapid detection and identification of multiple liquid and solid chemicals of concern, including agents, precursors and degradation products.

The data collected during the year-long residual phase enabled the ECBC team to gather feedback directly related to the user experience.

In this case, ECBC operational managers identified critical touch points within each warfighter unit, which used RASR during various training exercises designed to replicate scenarios in Afghanistan. Feedback included user interviews and surveys regarding two modes of operation: hand-held and robotic, and investigated the system capabilities and limitations, as well as ease of use; safety; and operational tactics, techniques, and procedures.

“Scientists and engineers may understand the technology behind the system, but the warfighters just want to know that it works effectively and is easy to use,” said Doretha Green, technical manager of the RASR ATD. “Direct and honest feedback on the system is invaluable and taken into strong consideration in the development of the final product.”

The user evaluations are currently being compiled into a final report that will be provided to the RASR program manager, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency Joint Science and Technology Office and RASR transition managers within the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense for possible transition of the system into a future program of record.

The RASR system provides additional situational awareness and improves the ability of highly trained reconnaissance teams to complete tasks in a CBRNE environment, Green said.

“Systems like RASR can provide added functionality in austere environments, and greatly reduce the risk to personnel while still providing an accurate, real-time detection capability,” she said.

The integration of a mapping sensor package onto the unmanned platform allows the UGV to autonomously map a contaminated area and provide a visual of the downrange site to the operator.

“The Avalon system contains a library of various chemicals and can match the chemical being targeted with what’s in the library,” Brown said. “When in hand-held or robotic/integrated system mode, the 4-pound detector gives the warfighter a standoff detection capability at a range of 0.3 to 3 meters. If there is an area that the robot cannot enter, the versatility of the system allows the user to dismount the Avalon and have the same functionality in hand-held operation as they would have if integrated on the robot. At the same time, if the area is unsafe for the warfighter, they can maintain control of the robot remotely through an operator control unit located in a more protected area.”

ECBC has been involved in the RASR program since 2008. DTRA JSTO included ECBC’s Advanced Technology Demonstration Branch during the pre-planning phase based on its previous work on the CBRN Unmanned Ground Reconnaissance Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration.

Officials said ECBC’s contribution to CUGR proved to be beneficial to stakeholders and as a result, their work became the catalyst for the RASR ATD.

“ECBC continues to work with partners across the military for integrated next-generation chemical detection solutions,” Brown said.

Matt Brown (center) demonstrates the Rapid Area Sensitive-site Reconnaissance Advanced Technology Demonstration technology during the Team CBRNE Capability Showcase on Aug. 5-6 at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. (U.S. Army photo)

Matt Brown (center) demonstrates the Rapid Area Sensitive-site Reconnaissance Advanced Technology Demonstration technology during the Team CBRNE Capability Showcase on Aug. 5-6 at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. (U.S. Army photo)

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The Edgewood Chemical Biological Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness–technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment–to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.