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SURUx2 – Semi-automatic robot system for detection of CBRN threats and IEDs

|   Call 2021

The FORTE project SURUx2 investigates novel methods for (semi)automatic robotics for standoff detection of hazardous agents and explosives in close proximity to suspicious or contaminated objects. The overall aim is to improve safety, efficiency and resource consumption, and to secure technology leadership.

Handling and/or countering CBRN agents and threats and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) not only poses an immediate danger to the personnel involved, but also poses a threat to the area exposed and the civilian population. Potentially contaminated objects or suspected IEDs are ideally approached using remote-controlled robots. To detect CBRN hazardous substances or traces of explosives, instruments must be carefully brought in close proximity to the object's surface without triggering the IED or becoming contaminated themselves. Robot control currently mainly depends on manual orientation using camera images. This makes precise and collision-free positioning considerably more difficult, especially in complex and cluttered/confined settings. To make matters worse, in many situations there is no direct line of sight to the robot which further impairs the ability to accurately control the robot. In the case of non-volatile or only weakly radiating substances, a complete examination of an object is usually only possible - if at all – at a high price in terms of staff deployment, time and/or resources.

A significant improvement of SURUx2 over the status quo of remote-controlled robot systems is the ability for (semi-)automatic positive movements (towards an object). Operators should be able to specify target waypoints - the robot platform and/or its arm, in turn, should then position themselves accordingly whilst avoiding collisions with its environment. For this purpose, a system is being developed that can independently determine the position and location of the robot both indoors and outdoors and enables an automated and smooth transition between these areas. This unlocks incremental route planning and dynamic obstacle detection/collision avoidance even during movements.

Imaging sensors such as hyperspectral cameras may be ideal for gapless stand-off detection and monitoring of, in particular, non-volatile C-hazardous substances and explosives. In contrast to point-based measurement/sampling, they can detect inhomogeneous substance distributions much better. With this technology, a complete robotic stand-off (de)contamination control of objects could be realized and thus no emergency personnel in the vicinity of the possibly contaminated object would be necessary anymore. Especially in field operations, the cameras experience high variability in object distances, ambient light conditions, etc. The influence of these parameters on the detection performance of such a robot-guided optical system is unclear, which is why important parameters are determined in SURUx2.
In contrast to γ-emitters, radioactive α-emitters can hardly be detected from a distance due to strong attenuation of their radiation. Nevertheless, they represent a significant hazard if they get into the groundwater and/or the human body. Because of this danger, vehicles crossing the border to Austria were systematically searched for α-radiation emitting particles after Chernobyl in 1986. To do this, the detectors had to be moved by hand over the entire vehicle’s surface at a distance of around 3 cm. Also for such applications, SURUx2 will reduce the capability gap for the (semi-)automatic execution of complex and precise movement sequences in unknown environments or along unknown object geometries.

SURUx2 expands the capability pool of the BMLV (Austrian Ministry of Defence, end user and public stakeholder) for remote (de)contamination control, or identification/defusing of IEDs in complex and cluttered/confined environments. Important cornerstones are the protection of the troops, acceleration of the operational process, simplified logistics, as well as precise and (semi-)automatically remote-controlled actions of a tactical robot.

[Translate to English:] Bundesministerium für Finanzen
[Translate to English:] Österreichische Forschungsförderungsgesellschaft - FFG
[Translate to English:] Bundesministerium für Landesverteidigung