Two big black boxes arrived on Minot Air Force Base three weeks ago. The containers provided safe shipping for the New Vision Robot dogs from Ghost Robotics Corp. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Weighing about 60 pounds each, Chappie and Atom were removed from their confinement and soon were being test driven by members of the 5th Civil Engineering Squadron’s Emergency Management Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear flight. This new technology allows Airmen to react to CBRN threats down range without risking the safety of themselves or others.
“Within a few minutes, and even though there were operation manuals included, it took very little reading to get them (the robot dogs) up and running in a few minutes” according to TSgt Dominic Garcia, who was instrumental in acquiring the Vision 60 robots as the non-commissioned officer in charge of Emergency Management Plans and Operations at Minot Air Force Base.
The functions of the robo-dogs are easily controlled with a remote that uses cameras, lights and designed movements. “For example, if you turn on this function you will see that the (robo-dog) will not run into a wall. Instead it will stop short so the operator can assess the situation.”
Other functions including running at a fast pace, climbing hills, going around curves, climbing stairs and even barking.
According to Garcia, Minot Air Force Base is the perfect location for the beta test of the robo-dogs “because of the extreme weather here. We need to know how well they react to the extreme cold weather.”
Funding for the Vision 60, and other innovative projects, is provided by Small Business Innovative Research Funds. “SBIR is a pot of money the Small Business Administration sets aside for the Department of Defense. The US Air Force accesses those funds through an application process with AFWERX as its vehicle. None of the funding comes directly from the Air Force” says Garcia. “As an example, for this project we have over a million dollars to take the project to implementation” which would eventually include equipping the robot dogs with the sensors needed to perform the CBRN mission.
Although there are similar vehicles being tested by security forces, Atom and Chappie are the very first robot dogs to be sent to an Emergency Management squadron.