print preview Back Overview S+T

Baptism of Fire for the Research Demonstrator «ARMANO»

The collapsed parts of the former ammunition depot Mitholz and the cone of debris in front of it still contain around 3500 gross tons of ammunition remnants. armasuisse Science and Technology is investigating how robotic tools can support a clearance action.

10.08.2020 | armasuisse Science and Technology, Swiss Drone and Robotics Centre

Remote control of «ARMANO» is demonstrated to a machine operator.
Remote control of «ARMANO» is demonstrated to a machine operator.

The Swiss Drone and Robotics Centre of the DDPS (SDRZ VBS) of armasuisse Science and Technology (S+T) has various different research demonstrators. One of these, an unmanned walking excavator, has now been deployed for the first time in Mitholz. The goal of the deployment was the remote-controlled digging of a trench in an ammunition-contaminated environment.

The Research Demonstrator «ARMANO»

«ARMANO» (Articulated Robotic Manipulator for Numerous Operations) was developed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) in cooperation with other partners. The demonstrator consists of two systems: a teleoperation station including a cockpit and a walking excavator. In its commercial version, it is equipped with four wheels and hydrostatic all-wheel drive. It thus achieves cross-country mobility which exceeds that of conventional wheeled or tracked vehicles. Thanks to armasuisse S+T’s research investments, this walking excavator can now be operated unmanned and should thus be suitable for deployment in environments which are potentially very hazardous for humans. In contrast to conventional machines, the «ARMANO» research demonstrator has the following special characteristics:

  • Automated undercarriage
    New hydraulic support cylinders and the corresponding components have been developed to automate the undercarriage. Building on knowledge of walking robotics, the ETHZ implemented a software with which the demonstrator could automatically and optimally let its legs rest on the ground. This automation simplifies operation while also increasing the stability of the machine in terrain.

  • Teleoperation station with cockpit
    Researchers at ETHZ have implemented a cockpit which is located in a teleoperation station. The swivelling cockpit enables construction machine operators to have intuitive remote control of the physically removed, unmanned research demonstrator, even over greater distances and without direct visual contact. The demonstrator, which is equipped with several cameras, transmits live pictures created from its environment directly to the cockpit. These images are shown on a total of four screens.
The automation simplifies operation while also increasing the stability of the machine in terrain.

 

  • Wireless communication
    The demonstrator can be remotely controlled and monitored via the civilian mobile network or via a WiFi connection. In addition, a military radio system for remote control has been successfully tested.

  • Remote control
    «ARMANO» can be controlled using force feedback devices as well as controllers for games consoles. This enables more intuitive remote control.

  • Sensors
    For the purposes of remote control and automation, «ARMANO» has been equipped with other sensors, such as cameras, GPS receivers, inertial measurement units and 3D laser distance sensors.

Two such demonstrators exist worldwide: One at the ETH Zurich for research purposes and one at the SDRZ VBS for application-oriented research. The first «live»  deployment took place in January 2020, together with the Commando Explosive Ordinance Disposal and Demining (Kdo KAMIR) of the Training Unit Engineer/Rescue/ABC (LVb G/Rttg/ABC) and explosive experts from armasuisse Science and Technology.

Introduction to the remote control of the unmanned walking excavator «ARMANO» in Mitholz

Deployment in Mitholz

The collapsed parts of the former ammunition depot Mitholz and the cone of debris in front of it still contain around 3500 gross tons of ammunition remnants.  «ARMANO» was deployed for the first time at the beginning of January 2020 as part of an order to excavate a 95-metre long ditch outside the plant. The goal was to carry out excavation work in an ammunition-contaminated environment on a remote-controlled basis, in order to enable the construction machine operator to work outside the hazardous zone.

The demonstrator was operated by local workers. The corresponding teleoperation station with the swivelling cockpit was stationed at a safe distance from the ditch. There was no direct visual contact between the construction machine operator and «ARMANO» during the entire excavation work. The demonstrator’s multi-camera system transmitted images of the environment to the teleoperation station via wireless communication. The machine operator in the cockpit was thus able to oversee the area around the walking excavator at all times and to excavate the ditch bit by bit via remote control. After about two days, the initial deployment of the demonstrator was completed successfully, with various explosive munition remnants, munition without explosive substances and scrap iron being uncovered.

What’s next?

The deployment in Mitholz showed the enormous potential of the remote-controlled demonstrator «ARMANO» in hazardous areas. In addition, insights have been gained into improving remote control, in particular with regard to the ergonomics of the cockpit, perception of the environment and communication infrastructure. Further development is now focusing on optimising the conventional remote control as well as expanding the novel human-machine interfaces, for example, using elements of virtual reality. In addition, research cooperations are investigating how the demonstrator can solve tasks in a more automated manner, such as the automatic erection of safety barriers. It remains to be seen which scenarios «ARMANO» will be used in the future – potential and possibilities clearly exist.

Swiss Drone and Robotics Centre SDRC

The Swiss Drone and Robotics Centre of the DDPS (SDRZ VBS) was set up in 2017 and belongs to the organisation armasuisse Science and Technology. The SDRZ VBS supports the Swiss Armed Forces as well as authorities and organisations with security responsibilities in the assessment of opportunities and risks of unmanned systems and robotics.