Bomb Detection Robots Take the Field

Government Sep 14, 2010

Live ordnance can go off if disturbed by the untrained.

Unexploded bombs may not be unheard of in such global hotspots as Laos and Lebanon, but what about here in the U.S.?

We have roughly 11 million acres contaminated with unexploded ordnance — an area about the size of Florida. It gives a whole new importance to the policy “Call before you dig.” The EPA calls unexploded ordnance an “imminent and substantial” threat, and estimates that it may take more than $14 billion to clean up.

In Laos, nearly 1.5 million tons of unexploded bombs litter the countryside. They look like toys. In Lebanon, one million cluster bombs lurk, awaiting the unwary. In June of 2010, construction workers discovered a 1,000 pound bomb while building a stadium in Goettingen, Germany. After evacuating 7000 people, a highly-experienced disposal crew prepared to defuse the bomb. It detonated, killing three.

To help this clean up, the Army Corps of Engineers has turned to Auburn. A team led by electrical engineers Lloyd Riggs and John Y. Hung has built a highly maneuverable robotic detection system. It’s so successful that its heavy use interrupts ongoing research to improve it.

The bomb-sniffing robot on the prowl for hidden threats

The challenge was simple, but not easy. How do you process the electrical signals a robot sends and receives well enough to tell the difference between a grenade and a tin can? According to Hung, the Army Corps of Engineers saw the potential in Auburn’s research and supported the creation of the robot.

Riggs and Hung upgraded information processing hardware and software, and assisted by David Bevly’s Vehicle Dynamics Lab, managed to “deliver a Ferrari for the price of a Chevy.” Bevly notes that there isn’t another platform in existence that has the combination of high dynamic performance and ease of use.

Principal Investigator

Dr. John Y. Hung

Research Interests

  • Control systems engineering
  • Nonlinear systems and control
  • Signal processing and instrumentation

To learn more specifics about Dr. Hung’s research, visit his Web site.

Auburn Vehicle Dynamics Lab

Lab Overview

The GPS Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory focuses on the control and navigation of vehicles using GPS in conjunction with other sensors, such as Inertial Navigation System (INS) sensors. The laboratory has several research thrusts including: sensor fusion/integration, on-line system identification, adaptive and robust control algorithms, and vehicle state and parameter estimation. These research thrusts are focused towards vehicle dynamics and transportation, including heavy trucks, passenger cars, off-road vehicles, as well as autonomous and unmanned vehicles. The laboratory consists of various GPS receivers (including a software GPS receiver), Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs), an instrumented Chevrolet Blazer, an automatically steered John Deere tractor, and access to an iRobot ATRV. Current projects include ultra-tight GPS/INS coupling (sponsored by the Army), study of vehicle rollover propensity, improved steering control of GPS guided farm tractors (sponsored by John Deere), vehicle and driver monitoring, and navigation and control of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).

Laboratory Web site

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