Support: Bomb Disposal Robots From The Philippines


December 1,2008: A team of Filipino engineers designed and built a bomb disposal robot that costs $6,100. The team was quite proud of this, because similar American devices cost up to a several hundred thousand dollars. The Filipino MAC (Mechanical Anti-Terrorist Concept) is two feet tall, three feet wide and five feet long. It has a mobile arm that can lift objects weighing up to 11 pounds. It has vidcams in front and behind that have night-vision. The four wheeled vehicle runs off motorcycle batteries, and can move at up to four meters a second. MAC is controlled via a 150 foot cable, with the operator viewing the video feed on a laptop. MAC, which weighs about a hundred pounds, can carry up to 44 pounds of equipment, and future versions will carry different types of equipment. In October, the MAC won an international competition for such technologies in China. There is a demand for the MAC in the Philippines, where Islamic terrorists, and criminals sending a message, use timer or remotely controlled bombs in public places. Several times a week, police in the capital city of Manila have need of something like MAC. Other cities, particularly in the Moslem south, also need MAC.

The low cost of the MAC was partly due to lower costs in the Philippines, where most of the key components were designed and manufactured. The MAC team also benefitted from over a decade of rapid progress in the design and manufacture of bomb disposal robots. Similar American devices are more expensive because they are smaller, lighter, more durable and mobile, as well as controlled wirelessly. The MAC was designed for use by police, while the U.S. military uses them in combat conditions, where the bots are subject to more potential damage. Thus you pay a lot more to ensure that the devices will keep operating despite damage or rougher terrain.

But the U.S. has also sought to build cheaper, less robust, droids. For example, three years ago, the U.S. Department of Defense was desperate to get more robots to the troops in Iraq. There was a big demand for these small robots, like the Packbot or Talon, that were used to check out roadside bombs and similar booby traps. These little machines were saving lots of lives, but there were not enough of them. Costing over $100,000 each, and built carefully to military standards, they could not be produced quickly enough. So a call was put out for other manufacturers to deliver something cheaper, and in larger quantities.

Two companies quickly came up with similar ideas. Basically, the new bot on the block was a modified remote control dump truck. The cheapest of the two, called a "BomBot," is a four wheel vehicle is equipped with a vidcam that can move independently, and a custom control unit that can make the truck move more precisely and farther from the operator. The fifteen pound robot is a compact 22x20x18 inches. Troops like the fact that these new bots are smaller and lighter.

 The basic drill for a BomBot is to approach (at speeds of up to 15 meters a second) a potential bomb, check it out via the vidcam, and then activate the rear part of the truck to dump a small, remote control, explosive next to the IED, and move away. The explosive is detonated, destroying the IED. The first BomBots cost about $32,000 each (mostly for R&D and developing the custom components), and the first 300 arrived in Iraq in early 2006. They were very successful, and over 2,000 more were ordered. This brought the unit price down to about $5,000 each. Still a lot for a toy that costs about a hundred bucks at Wal Mart. But BomBot (and its cousin, MarcBot) are much enhanced so they will perform reliably in a hot and dusty combat zone (not a green and temperate suburb). If anyone could do it cheaper, with the same level of performance, the Department of Defense is always open to new offers.

The MAC team have a talent for this kind of work, and the Filipino army has agreed to provide additional funds for more development efforts. With lower production costs, and obvious engineering and development talent for this work, the Philippines could become a source of low cost, high performance bomb disposal robots for the many countries that cannot afford the more expensive U.S. droids.



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