Robotics office works to reduce land mine threat, by Steve Brady (Feb. 27)

WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- A local cure to a far away problem is being developed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., at the Robotics Technology Insertion Activity.

The problem is the critical danger land mines pose to U.S. troops in Bosnia. The remedy is a system of towed rollers that will clear mines faster and more thoroughly than the present method.

With the Program Manager for Mines, Countermine and Demolitions and the Joint Projects Office for Unmanned Ground Vehicles, R-TIA is charged with developing an unmanned M-60 tank with rollers for mine clearing operations in Bosnia, said Dr. Robert Sickler, manager of R-TIA. His office is responsible for developing and testing robotically controlled vehicles used in mine detection.

The current system uses two sets of rollers attached to the front of a tank. Each set of push rollers is approximately three and a half feet wide. Mounted in front of the tank's treads, these rollers clear a path 16 feet from edge to edge but leave an eight-and-a-half-foot uncleared gap between the rollers, he said.

The new system adds a trailing set of rollers to cover that gap, Sickler said. The addition means the tank can clear the entire 16-foot swath in one pass. The new roller system simply uses an old set of rollers, reconfigured with a newly designed hitch to attach them to the rear of a tank.

"We've never used a towed roller before," he said. "If you used just push rollers, only the area directly in front of the (tank) tracks will be cleared. This (system) will clear the area between those two rollers."

Sickler said the new system will save manpower, and ultimately, lives. "The only other way to clear a path now is with a mine detector and a probe," he said. Soldiers probing for mines by hand can clear half a mile of road in an hour Sickler estimated. With this new system, troops should be able to clear eight miles in an hour, he said.

The project has proved to be a challenge for the those involved with the development.

"One of the challenges is trying to make (the new rollers) track correctly, and not sway left or right," said Sgt. 1st Class John Roberts, Garrison Command. This was accomplished by manufacturing a rigid hitch instead of using a chain to pull the rollers, he said .

"We're also trying to make (the hitch) out of parts that are common so that (troops) can build it out of what they can find in Europe," he said.

"They will be able to build (a set of rollers) at battalion level with these designs," Sickler said.

R-TIA has been working on the project for about one month and tested the system Wednesday.

"It's a good concept and it works," said Larry Fortner, an engineering technician for R-TIA. "It covers the dead space in the middle (of old rollers). Hopefully, this will save some lives."

(From "Essayons.")