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Israel Debuts Micro Robot in Anti-Tunnel Campaign

Jul. 28, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By BARBARA OPALL-ROME   |   Comments
The Micro Tactical Ground Robot, built by Roboteam, is the latest tool to be fielded by Israel Defense Force units targeting Gaza's elaborate and often explosives-rigged network of tunnels.
The Micro Tactical Ground Robot, built by Roboteam, is the latest tool to be fielded by Israel Defense Force units targeting Gaza's elaborate and often explosives-rigged network of tunnels. (Roboteam)
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TEL AVIV — Israel debuted a locally developed micro robot in its ongoing onslaught against the labyrinth of tunnels and concealed shafts supporting subterranean arms depots, command posts and cross-border attacks from Gaza.

Built by Roboteam, the Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) is the latest tool to be fielded under fire by infantry and special units targeting Gaza’s elaborate and often explosives-rigged network of tunnels.

The Tel Aviv-based startup, a newcomer to the global robotic market, beat US and Israeli bidders in a rush tender for up to 110 shoulder-carried robots, defense and industry sources said.

Several systems are already operating with combat engineering units and specialized infantry against the dozens of tunnels and multiple access points concealed in homes and civilian structures throughout the Gaza Strip, sources here said.

Measuring 60 centimeters across, MTGR is similar to the width of soldiers tasked for the high-risk surveillance, mapping and explosive-ordnance-disposal missions.

It weighs less than 20 pounds, carries its weight in payload and is built to clear obstacles, climb 8-inch stairs and maneuver in tight, dangerous terrain.

Its five onboard cameras, internal microphone and infrared laser points generate intelligence and targeting data 360 degrees around the vehicle, while an encrypted radio streams secure voice and video to tactical operators and commanders.

The system is soldier-carried, travels at 2 miles per hour and has a line-of-sight operating range of some 1,600 feet.

Roboteam was informed of its winning bid during the second week of Operation Protective Edge, now in its 21st day, an Army procurement officer said on July 28.

Israel’s Ministry of Defense declined comment on the unannounced down-select, and Roboteam executives referred questions to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

In an interview last October, Yosi Wolf, Roboteam co-founder and co-chief executive, highlighted smuggling tunnels and other underground threats as ideal missions for MTGR and another smaller, 2.5-pound system developed by the company.

Wolf cited Roboteam’s selection, less than four years after it launched operations, as priority provider to the Pentagon’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO), the authority managing interagency programs for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

According to the CTTSO’s website, 100 MTGRs have been earmarked for “priority fielding” to special forces and explosive-ordnance-disposal units, while another 35 were destined for the US Homeland Security Department and other domestic users.

Since its 2009 founding by Wolf and Elad Levy, former junior commanders of an Israel Air Force special unit, Roboteam and a US subsidiary based in Bethesda, Maryland, operate parallel production lines supported by some 100 subcontractors in both countries.

In the previous interview, Wolf said the firm operated like an elite technology force, “with access to the IDF as our backyard for testing” and organized for rapid-response design and production tailored to customer needs.

“Our added value is the speed at which we can develop software and integrate technologies into ruggedized, reliable and very low-cost robots,” he said at the time.

When contacted July 27, he declined comment on Roboteam’s operational or contractual activities pertaining to the ongoing Gaza campaign. ■

Email: bopallrome@defensenews.com.

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