New kit converts earthmovers to full remote control

New kit converts earthmovers to full remote control
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July 7, 2006 If you're a remote control enthusiast seeking the ultimate toy, the birthday present wish list will become frightfully expensive by the end of this paragraph. Defence technology specialist QinetiQ has launched a range of Applique Robotic Kits (ARKs) that convert the current in-service military JCB 4CXM or Caterpillar CAT320B families of vehicles into fully integrated remote controlled units for use by the military in hazardous environments. Operators can be up to a kilometre away and don't even need to directly see the vehicle they are operating, but still have full control of it. By simply flicking a switch, existing vehicles can change between full remote or manual mode, immediately reducing potential dangers to the operators but still enabling it to be fully used for the tasks for which it was designed.

"Plant operators and drivers have often been placed in real danger when working in hazardous environments - for the first time they have a viable alternative," explained Fiona Lewinton, MD of QinetiQ's Land Division. "Activities involving military operations, nuclear waste or chemical management, contaminated other hazardous land clearance or activities on unstable land place significant safety risks and safety management issues on operators and companies. QinetiQ's Appliqué Robotic Kit, once fully integrated on a vehicle, now means that they can fully operate the vehicle at a safe distance."

The ARK system is easily transferred between vehicles or simply removed after use, returning the vehicle to its non modified state. Each kit comprises a Portable Command Console (PCC), Vehicle Mounted Control Modules (VCMs) and a host feedback interface and electro-hydraulic system for each specific vehicle. The electro-hydraulic modules are vehicle specific, with all the other components being generic.

Based on QinetiQ's historical development work for the MOD on vehicles such as the JCB 170, the ARK system provides a robust and reliable solution that meets UK safety critical hardware standards including Safety Integrity Level 2 (SIL2). The remote control capabilities are managed via a COFDM radio solution that provides high quality video and data feedback at relatively low power consumption.

The Portable Command Console (PCC) controls everything from vehicle windscreen wipers to the brakes and bucket but does not impede the driver when the vehicle is operated in manual mode. The PCC operates continuously via an external 24v power supply or for 1.5 hours using batteries. A 128 bit encryption dongle key coupled with a remote e-stop button on the console ensures maximum security and safety to the remote operator.

A 15-inch sunlight readable LCD screen presents a crystal clear display and 20 buttons surround the screen, providing access to the easy to use menu system and its various features. Sensors and auxiliary tools and cameras can also be fitted to provide additional information - dependent on the operational scenario. Selectable camera views, vital vehicle information and vehicle position are all displayed on the console to provide the operator with all the information to run the plant equipment with confidence.

The vehicle control unit acts as the main router of the system on the vehicle and receives feedback from the vehicle hydraulic module, the vehicle electrical module and the camera modules. The vehicle electrical module links to the host vehicle and provides and receives signals for the host vehicle such as the vehicle engine speed and operator warnings. The vehicle hydraulic module provides the control link to the host vehicle hydraulic system.

In addition to the core ARK systems, QinetiQ is also offering potential customers a range of options that include a kit and sensor fitment service, full in life support and training, a range of add-ons like infra-red and pan-n-tilt camera units plus a spooler/fibre cable unit. A bespoke kit design service for other vehicles is also available.

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