Pittsburgh Company Developing Robots For U.S. Navy That Will Disarm Underwater Bombs

Aug 3, 2017

A Lawrenceville-based robotics company is collaborating with UCLA’s Biomechatronics Laboratory to make robots for the U.S. Navy. The goal is to create robots that can disarm underwater explosives, keeping military personnel away from dangerous environments.

RE2’s robots are roughly the shape and size of a human torso, and their flexible arms and hands make them about as strong and efficient as humans. Combined with UCLA’s haptic technology that helps robots sense objects through touch, Jorgen Pederson, president and CEO of RE2, said these robots will hopefully help save military lives.

“These arms are very dexterous, they’re human-like,” Pederson said. “So it’s like a human is down under the water themselves doing the work, but they’re away from the harm.”

In theory, military personnel on land will control the robot in the water using an object similar to a gaming controller. A camera on the robot lets the guide see from the robot’s point of view, and then the person will control the robot’s arms and hands during the disarming process.

“Our team is excited to work with the next-generation manipulation system to be provided by RE2,” Veronica Santos, director of UCLA’s Biomechatronics Laboratory, said in a press release. “The platform will be invaluable to our efforts to develop multisensory driven, bimanual manipulation capabilities on par with those of humans, and to support and safeguard our nation’s servicemen.”

RE2 is using similar robots with the U.S. Army, but those were made for use on land. The company is also working with the U.S. Air Force to create robotic pilots for military planes.

Pederson said RE2 will continue to refine their robots to ultimately move as similarly to humans as possible.

“The world we live in is designed for human beings,” Pederson said. “So the most optimal form to get around, go upstairs, or go through places, is to also be like a human being.”

RE2 received $1.3 million from the U.S. Department of Defense for its technology.