In 2010, the Naval Sea Systems Command Warfare Center (NAVSEA) identified a need for a stronger, faster and more efficient mobile hydraulic robotics system. NAVSEA envisioned a prototype which would overcome the physics-based limitations of electromechanical actuation, including poor payload capacities and slow motion. NAVSEA’s vision also incorporated the latest technology in hydraulics actuation, to overcome traditional size limitations, energy inefficiency and lack of precision control.
The prototype would need to deliver a high strength, high speed, and highly efficient, seven degree of freedom, mobile, dual-arm hydraulic robotic manipulator with the ability to:
- Rapidly grasp, lift and hold heavy objects while efficiently running on battery power.
- Dig in hard packed soil and hammer through concrete.
- Survive heavy impacts.
A request for proposals was submitted to the National Advanced Mobility Consortium (NAMC) (formerly the Robotics Technology Consortium), the industry/academic half of the Defense Mobility Enterprise (DME). The DME is a partnership between Government (the Vehicle and Robotics Alliance) and industry (NAMC) for the advancement of ground vehicle technologies. After thorough Government review of the proposals, NAMC member company Vecna, Inc. was awarded $695,000 and a timeline from February 2010 to February 2012 to deliver a new design. Based in Massachusetts and a NAMC member since 2008, Vecna is a small business specializing in manipulation, mobility, human machine teaming, and system design and engineering services.
Vecna prototyped and delivered an advanced hydraulic seven degree of freedom robot arm/leg, designed to allow a wide range of activities, including logistics such as loading and unloading of trucks and pallets, digging and disarming of IEDs, helping soldiers lift heavy loads, and carrying objects when configured as a legged system. This prototype had over four times the power and speed of other existing robot arms or legs of similar size and weight. Several demonstrations over the course of the project showed the superior capabilities of this platform. These demonstrations included loading and unloading pallets and trucks, digging in hard packed soil, lifting heavy loads quietly, quickly, and efficiently, and precise yet strong manipulation of delicate objects.
Vecna’s work was built on several innovations that originated as graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and was subsequently funded by several, large commercial equipment and logistics focused enterprises. In the commercial world, the technology is particularly useful in the warehousing and order fulfillment areas. This development embodies the mission of the DME by taking cutting-edge private sector technology and applying it to swiftly meet Department of Defense (DoD) requirements. Currently, Vecna is working with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to pilot high strength manipulation for defense logistics activities, while progress continues towards bringing a product to market for commercial applications.
If your Government group is interested in utilizing the Ground Vehicle Systems Other Transaction Agreement (GVS OTA) as a contract vehicle and collaborating directly with industry leaders who are on the forefront of ground vehicle technologies, contact the VRA Program Office today.
If your company or academic organization is interested in opportunities like the Advanced Hydraulic Actuation project, join the NAMC today.