Long-term study of a portable field robot in urban terrain



The armed forces have a considerable amount of experience in using robots for bomb removal and mine clearing. Emerging technology also enables the targeting of other applications. To evaluate if real deployment of new technology is justified, tactical advantages gained have to be compared to drawbacks imposed. Evaluation calls for realistic tests which in turn require methods dictating how to deploy the new features. The present study has had two objectives: first, to gain a comprehensive view of a potential user of man-portable robots; second, to embed a robot system with users for assessment of present technology in real deployment. In this project we investigated an army company specialized in urban operations performing their tasks with the support of the iRobot Packbot Scout. The robot was integrated and deployed as an ordinary piece of equipment which required modifying and retraining a number of standard behaviors. The reported results were acquired through a long-term test ranging over a period of six months. This paper focuses on the characteristics of the users and their current ways of operation; how the robot was implemented and deployed. Additionally, this paper describes benefits and drawbacks from the users' perspective. A number of limitations in current robot technology are also identified. The findings show that the military relies on precise and thoroughly trained actions that can be executed with a minimum of ambiguity. To make use of robots, new behavioral schemes, which call for tactical optimization over several years, are needed. The most common application during the trials was reconnaissance inside buildings with uncertain enemy presence when time was not critical. Deploying the robot took more time than completing the task by traditional means, but in return kept the soldiers out of harm's way and enabled them to decrease weapon deployment. The range of the radio link, limited video feedback, and the bulky operator control unit were the features constraining the system's overall performance the most. On the other hand, did properties of the system, such as ruggedness, size, weight, terrain ability, and endurance, prove to match the application. The users were of the opinion that robots such as the Packbot Scout would be a valuable standard feature in urban intervention. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.