TEL AVIV – After capturing a $25 million award from the US Air Force, a seven-year-old Israeli startup and its four-year-old US subsidiary has teamed with DRS Technologies to go for the brass ring of Pentagon tactical robot bids: an estimated $400 million program to provide some 4000 soldier-carried systems across the US Army.
Requests for proposals for the US Army's Common Robotics System – Individual (CRS-I) are due out early next year, but executives at Tel Aviv-based Roboteam and its US headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., said their operationally proven Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) meets all requirements published by US Army Contracting Command earlier this year.
According to its request for information, the Army's Robotic Systems Joint Project Office in Warren, Michigan, is looking for a commercial off-the-shelf robotic system for multiple missions for dismounted warfighters.
Missions include chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) detection; lower level reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition; remote clearing of danger areas; explosive obstacle countermeasure operations; and explosive ordnance disposal operations from a standoff distance.
Based on its initial market survey request, the Army is looking for a system whose combined weight is no more than 20 pounds, can "grasp, hold and carry objects weighing up to five pounds; can operate continuously for up to three hours and has a line-of-sight operational range of at least 300 meters.
"Our MTGR certainly meets or exceeds requirements spelled out in the draft request," Yosi Wolf, Roboteam co-founder and co-CEO, said of the micro robot that his firm has sold to dozens of countries, including the US where it has contracts with the Air Force and the Pentagon's Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTO).
Click here for full coverage of the 2016 AUSA Annual Meeting.
According to Roboteam executives, the MTGR weighs less than 20 pounds, carries its weight in payload and is built to clear obstacles, climb stairs and conduct complex maneuvers in extreme terrain.
Its five onboard cameras, internal microphone and infrared laser pointers generate intelligence and targeting data a full 360-degrees around the robot, while an encrypted radio streams secure voice and video back to tactical operators and command staff.
"We have 26,000 working hours in the field. We provided 135 systems to CTTO. And even though our contract with the US Air Force was for 250 units over five years, they've already ordered almost the full quantity after just one year. … I'm telling you all this to emphasize that we fully intend to win this program, together with DRS," Wolf said.
David Onn, an executive representing DRS in Israel, confirmed the teaming agreement with Roboteam.
In a recent visit to its Tel Aviv headquarters, Roboteam executives said the upcoming US Army competition is a strategic focus for the firm, which has essentially transformed its Israel operation into a prototype design house in support of its US-based company and customers in Israel and around the world.
To that end, the privately held firm has fortified itself with $50 million in fresh equity investment secured primarily from Singaporean investment funds.
Shahar Abuhazira, chief executive at Roboteam North America, said the US subsidiary now has 25 direct employees – several of them multi-tour US veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan – and another 65 employed by subcontractors hired to perform production.
"We have no intention of building production lines. That's not our core capability. Instead, we find the best subcontractors to do this so that we can continue to focus on our areas of expertise, which is in engineering, marketing and constant, uncompromising customer support," Abuhazira said.
Recently, Roboteam North America has attracted to its advisory board prominent members of the US Army community, including Heidi Shyu, former assistant secretary of the army for acquisition, logistics and technology; and retired Brig. Gen. David Ogg, former program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems.
"They are a very innovative team, and that's what impressed me," Shyu told Defense News. "They're extremely committed to their customers … and I thought it is important to leverage this innovative life-saving technology that originated outside of US borders for the benefit of US users."
As for the US veterans employed by Roboteam North America, Shyu said it's a reflection of the firm's commitment to solving real operational problems.
"Nearly all the folks I've met in the Maryland headquarters are vets who know intimately what the infantry has to deal with. They speak through experience. They understand the ease-of-use issues, the weight issues and how to exploit robots as a relevant and increasingly vital operational tool."