Military Robots Manufactured in West Virginia Combat IEDs in the Middle East

By:Patrick Gregg

Issue:Fall 2006 : Articles

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The BomBot is a robot that can be rapidly deployed to place explosive charges on or near an IED without exposing the operator to danger.

RCBI partners with WVHTC Foundation to help manufacture the remotely controlled BomBot™ designed to keep soldiers out of harm’s way.

As of spring 2006, there were an estimated 40 IED (Improvised Explosive Device) incidents each day in Iraq, either exploded or disarmed. And IEDs have accounted for approximately one-third of all American deaths in Iraq.

While frightening, those facts were among the driving forces that helped get the BomBot™ manufactured and deployed to U.S. troops in the Middle East. Troops now have these military robots that have been manufactured in West Virginia and are specially designed to combat IEDs.

The BomBot, an “expendable” military robot introduced by the U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technology Division, is manufactured in Fairmont at Innovative Response Technologies, Inc. (IRT), a wholly owned subsidiary of the West Virginia High Technology Consortium (WVHTC) Foundation. IRT will become the leading manufacturer of the low-cost robots in the country, thanks to an invaluable partnership with the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing (RCBI).

IRT team members include a group of West Virginia-based companies and organizations: Azimuth, Inc., located in Fairmont and Morgantown; Kvaerner Power, Fairmont; and RCBI, located in Huntington, Charleston, Bridgeport and Rocket Center. Nomadio, Inc., of Philadelphia, Pa., manufactures the remote control radio used on the BomBot system.

The BomBot represents a $9.6 million contract from the U.S. Navy. BomBots are robots that can be rapidly deployed to place explosive charges on or near an IED without exposing the operator to danger.

Originally developed at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, the BomBot delivers significant value to the coalition forces deployed in the Middle East. At a cost of only $5,000 each — versus earlier versions of robots that cost $100,000 to $150,000 — the BomBot minimizes the military’s financial investment and maximizes frequency of use. The U.S. Navy began shipping the BomBot to U.S. military outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan in April.

“The BomBot was manufactured in only 105 days from the contractual agreement to the first shipment date,” said Congressman Alan B. Mollohan, who secured a total of $3.75 million in the 2004 and 2005 Defense Department spending bills for the WVHTC Foundation to prototype, test and evaluate the BomBot. “This rapid production cycle will enable the BomBot team to supply the robots at the rate our troops require them, with the goal of immediately resulting in lives saved.”

The manufacture of the BomBot represents “a strategic government/industry R&D initiative, coupled with an urgent military need,” said WVHTC Foundation President and CEO James L. Estep. “This successful, accelerated collaboration has resulted in a highly mobile vehicle that can be manufactured at a fraction of the cost of past robots used for these purposes, while keeping the robot operator out of harm’s way and saving military and civilian lives. This has a particularly special meaning to me because my son is serving in Iraq.”

Many robotic systems are large and must be transported on a HumVee or by trailer and can move at speeds of only a few miles an hour. The BomBot is a miniature, modified, 4x4, remote controlled truck that has been equipped with a camera that can pan and tilt. The BomBot has a simple explosive charge dispenser that acts in much the same way as the bed of a dump truck. It weighs 15 pounds and is 22 inches by 20 inches by 18 inches in size, can reach speeds of 30 to 35 miles per hour, and is able to quickly and more covertly place a device near an IED to destroy it.

IRT General Manager William Pentz said that the relationship with RCBI helped make the BomBot a reality.

“RCBI has its finger on the pulse of the West Virginia manufacturing base,” Pentz said. “They looked at what we were trying to do, identified the best manufacturing resources for our program and were able to coordinate getting the manufacturing parties together to make this happen. RCBI coordinated our introduction to Kvaerner Power. That introduction led to our using Kvaerner for manufacturing and assembly purposes and helped Kvaerner land two contracts of its own.”

Thanks to the resources RCBI helped bring to the table, the U.S. Navy has taken delivery of 1,050 BomBots as of June 23 for use by U.S. troops in the Middle East.

To date, IEDs have been referred to as “the number one killer of American troops” by U.S. General John Abizaid, CENTCOM commander, in a letter to the U.S. Defense Department. In the meantime, IRT, its manufacturing team and the U.S. Navy hope the BomBot can help change those statistics.