Mighty Mites: MARCbots Add Exponent to IED Land-Mine Detection
Based upon the first Exponent robots sent to Afghanistan in 2002, the first improved MARCbot IIs for IED sweeps were initially sent to Iraq in May 2004. They weren’t fully ready for combat, but they were useful in much the same way remote-control toys were proving useful to inventive US troops, who used them to quickly test the weight of objects that might be IED land mines.
With fast spiral improvements made in direct response to soldier feedback from IED sweep missions, the MARCbot IV now features:
- A much larger range
- Removable remote control antennae, allowing U.S. troops to operate the robots from inside armored vehicles.
- A much higher resolution camera.
- A more rugged system to move the camera.
- An additional battery, allowing the robot to last longer.
- More power, so the robots can climb hills and off-road obstacles more easily. This feature was a frequent request, as many bombs and mines are found slightly off-road.
Colonel Gregory Tubbs, Director of the Rapid Equipping Force, spoke highly of them in his August 12, 2005 presentation as he related stories from the troops in the field:
“A couple of samples of things that we’ve done, and we’ll show you a couple of these at the end of this short brief. The MARCBOT, probably proudest of that because we know, not just anecdotally but in the real world, it has saved lives. There’s over 30 of them in theater right now, and we’re in the process of putting several hundred additional small robots into the country.
Now we don’t compete with explosive ordnance device type robots, and what we do is try to put a robot at the lowest echelon, where soldiers can interrogate potential improvised explosive devices. We had one — in a one-week period interrogated 32 potential improvised explosive devices, and of those 32, 26 were actual improvised explosive devices.
Now for $5,000 investment for this type of device that has a camera, a swivel arm — and you’ll see it earlier — a little bit later — we think that’s a pretty good investment.
Soldiers like them. They save lives. We get testimonials periodically that attest to that. When we go visit people, when I go visit them in either Afghanistan or Iraq, they’ll tell me time and again — they point at pictures of soldiers and say that “I know for a fact that that soldier’s life was saved by this device.” Or they — on occasion, they’ve brought me the broken MARCBOT that was blown up in an IED blast. So to me, it’s much better to use that device to get blown up than for our soldiers to suffer. So we’re — I’m most proud of that.”
MARCbot: Show Me The Money
In August 2005, Stars and Stripes reported that 330 MARCbot Spiral IV systems are being delivered to the US Army Rapid Equipping Force for deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, at reported prices of around $5,000 each.
May 31/06: Exponent Inc. in Phoenix, AZ received a $9.7 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for 215 multi-function Agile Remote Controlled Robot MARCbot Systems, and spare parts and components for MARCbot sustainment. These will be delivered to the Robotic Systems Joint Project Office for use by the joint robotics repair facilities and embedded repair teams deployed in support of contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in support of the Global War on Terror. Work will be performed in Phoenix, AZ and is expected to be complete in May 2007. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division in Orlando, FL (N61339-06-D-0016).
Additional Readings & Sources
- DID – MTRS to the Rescue: Radioshack Replaced? Updated article covers the larger, more expensive, and more capable Explosives & Ordnance Disposal robots that Col. Tubbs was talking about.
- DID (Dec 21/05) – Radio Shack v2.0: Bombots, Start Your Engines! MarcBOT competitor, explicitly developed as a less-expensive alternative to the MTRS program’s larger TALON and Packbot robots.
- DefenseLINK Transformation (Sept 14/05) – Tiny Robot Carries Big Responsibility In Iraq. Covers the MARCbot.
- Stars and Stripes (Aug 19/05) – First 330 bomb-seeking robots will start rolling off the line next week
- American Forces Press Service (Aug 12/05) – Rapid Equipping Force Speeds New Technology to Front Lines. See also Colonel Gregory Tubbs, Director of the Rapid Equipping Force, in his presentation that day: Latest Military Technologies Being Employed by U.S. Soldiers, which includes feedback from the field.
- DefenseLINK Transformation (Jan 28/05) – Command Assesses Robot to Help Save Soldiers’ Lives. Covers the MARCbot’s demonstration to soldiers from the U.S. Army Operational Test Command on Jan. 12th at the Fort Hood Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain site.