Bomb disposal work is as dangerous as it comes, but the British Army will now have an advanced new tool to help them with the task at hand. Welcomed into the ranks this week is a shiny new set of ground vehicles that will afford the bomb disposal team some useful capabilities, including a haptic feedback function that will offer "human-like" dexterity when dealing with dangerous explosives.

Robots that have been developed to "feel" things as well as grab a hold of them are beginning to open up some exciting possibilities in all kinds of fields. These are typically equipped with force sensors at the point of contact that might measure how firm, heavy, light or delicate an item is, and deliver haptic feedback to the remote user so they can make adjustments if need be.

This remote user, as recent examples have demonstrated, could be a researcher combing the ocean depths for shipwreck treasure from the surface, a student surgeon in training using a virtual model or an astronaut aboard the ISS carrying out the first telerobotic handshake between space and Earth.

Now the British Army will be putting these capabilities to use in its efforts to disarm explosives. It has taken delivery of four purpose-built bomb disposal robots known as Harris T7s, which have undergone rigorous trials involving multi-terrain driving, battlefield simulations and dexterity tasks, which apparently pushed them to their limits.

Equipped with HD cameras, all-terrain treads and an adjustable manipulation arm, the robots will now be adopted for use in real-world scenarios. They will replace the British Army's fleet of Wheelbarrow Mk8Bs – bomb disposal devices it has used around the world since 1972.

The Harris T7's advanced haptic feedback technology will allow operators working safely from a distance to "feel" their way through the delicate process of defusing explosives, thanks to a remote-controlled handgrip. As the robot relays physical feedback to the user, it will apparently provide them with "human-like dexterity."

"These robots will go on to be an essential piece of kit, preventing harm to innocent civilians and the brave operators who make explosives safe," said UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. "The robots will provide the Army with the latest bomb-disposal technology and will prove to be trusted companions both on UK streets and in deadly conflict zones."

These four robots are actually just the first of 56, which the Harris Corporation is due to deliver as per a £55 million contract with the British Army. They will be used for training initially, with all 56 expected to be in service by December 2020.

"The first four production standard vehicles have been delivered early to the British Army enabling us to conduct train-the-trainer packages from January onwards," says Lt Col Thornton Daryl Hirst, Section Head of Remote Controlled Vehicles at the British Army. "The hard work and dedication of my team has helped ensure that this critical project has run to time and cost and the trials exceeded our performance expectations."

Source: British Army