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Notebook: Australia Gets Backpack-Size Robots

Jan. 25, 2012 - 02:54PM   |  
By KRISTIN QUINN   |   Comments
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QinetiQ has delivered a first batch of Dragon Runner 20 (DR20) small unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) to the Australian Army under its five-year, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract.

The Australian Army, which had previously purchased QinetiQ’s larger Talon UGV, intends to use the smaller Dragon Runner for dismounted explosive ordnance disposal operations, said Ed Godere, senior vice president of unmanned systems for QinetiQ North America. QinetiQ won the Dragon Runner contract after a competition with a Boeing-iRobot team that pitched its jointly developed Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle 300 series.

“Australia is a very important ally of the U.S., and probably even more so in the future with more of a focus on that part of the world,” Godere said. “We delivered Talon to them originally about four years ago, and they’ve been using it successfully.”

At about 30 pounds, the Dragon Runner is much smaller than QinetiQ’s Talon, and is designed to be modular and reconfigurable for particular missions using a variety of tools, Godere said.

The packable robot can be carried on a dismounted soldier’s back, and can be configured on tracks, wheels or to climb stairs. Its manipulator arm for ordnance disposal operations is designed to be quickly attached and detached. The design is also intended to allow for quick exchange of payloads, Godere said. He added that these capabilities make Dragon Runner more suitable for dismounted operations, as opposed to the Talon, which is primarily used for convoy missions.

Although the Australian Army contract focuses on ordnance disposal, Dragon Runner was originally developed for intelligence collecting, Godere said. The UGV can also be equipped with a camera or other sensors such as a TNT detector, and explore locations of interest or suspicious packages. Godere said the focus turned to ordnance disposal when QinetiQ added the detachable manipulator arm.

More than 100 Dragon Runner UGVs are in use by the U.K. Ministry of Defence for ordnance disposal operations. QinetiQ has also sold the robot to U.S. military and law enforcement agencies.

This story appeared in the January-February issue of C4ISR Journal.

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