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ASI's exhibit at one of the largest unmanned vehicle conferences in the world attracted robotics enthusiasts from multiple industries to see the latest in vehicle automation technology.

Business development personnel from Autonomous Solutions, Inc. returned this past week from a sunny Orlando, Florida, where AUVSI recently concluded its Unmanned Systems 2014 conference. The booth at this year's AUVSI proved to be one of ASI's most impactful exhibits to date and included a wide variety of videos, new products, vehicles, and even a concept command center.

Vehicle Control Unit

ASI's booth highlighted the launch of a new vehicle control unit (VCU). The VCU is the onboard computer in an autonomous vehicle that manages critical vehicle functions like positioning, transmission, acceleration, brake, and steering, while also relaying vehicle health data to the remote operator.

The new design has improvements in size, weight, and computing power over previous models and now houses the software pieces that control autonomy and obstacle avoidance. The new VCU design will soon be adopted into ASI's vehicle automation offerings across all industries.

Forge

Released during last year's AUVSI conference, the Forge robotic platform was back again, this time with a massive gripper attachment capable of retrieving and manipulating barrels, trees, and other large objects.



On November 1, 2013, Autonomous Solutions, Inc. celebrated their thirteenth year of business. Since November 2000, ASI has automated more than sixty different types of vehicles; deploy hundreds of robots worldwide; and provided solutions that improve productivity and safety in challenging spaces, including: military, mining, agriculture, manufacturing, and automotive.

As the year winds down, we have an opportunity to pause and reflect on the past and make resolutions for the future. This past year was full of exciting events, notable implementations, product releases, and industry awards.

This article will take you through some of the more prominent happenings during ASI's Year Thirteen.

Mar 2013—ASI adopts AGILE development methodology
To deliver the best possible product while being able to accommodate customer feedback, ASI teams adopt AGILE development methodologies.

Apr 2013—Guideline Receives Bronze Edison Award
On April 25th, the prestigious Edison Awards selected ASI's Guideline Robotic Convoy product as a 2013 Bronze winner. Guideline is a tethered, unmanned convoy system currently undergoing in-theater testing.


Ford Robotic Durability Program

Jun 2013—Ford Motor Company Announces Robotic Program
Ford Motor Company announced its robotic durability testing program designed to protect drivers from their most punishing test tracks. ASI's automotive team worked with Ford engineers for three years to supply the vehicle robotics for Ford's program.

Jul 2013—USPTO Issues Two New Trademarks
ASI adds to its store of intellectual property with two new trademarks for the Forecast 3D laser system and the Vantage obstacle detection and avoidance system.

Aug 2013—ASI Announces New Forge Robotic Platform at AUVSI
ASI unveils the new Forge robotic platform at the AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2013 conference in Washington DC. The new product answer the need for an x-by-wire robotic platform usable across multiple industries.


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Translogic highlights the LAPD Batcat. Watch Video

Aol Auto's Translogic series highlights the BatCat telehandler operated by the Los Angeles Police Department. Watch Video.



Bad guys, beware! The BatCat will get you. Aol Auto's Translogic series released a video highlighting the Bomb Assessment Tactical Counter Assault Tool (BatCat) owned and operated by the Los Angeles Police Department's bomb squad. The specialized fork lift can be used in a variety of applications, including: breaching buildings, inspecting bombs, and even supporting a sniper perch.

The BatCat was designed to be an all-purpose, heavy duty telehandler that can be driven manually or by remote control depending on the danger of the situation. That's where Autonomous Solutions, Inc. comes in. ASI handled the vehicle automation technology that enables officers to drive the BatCat remotely, allowing officers to operate downrange without physically being in danger.

The same robotic technology found in the BatCat is also being used by the US Air Force for target vehicles, Ford Motor Company's robotic durability program, and other mining and agricultural groups.

"The whole idea is we want to be able to keep people out of harm's way," said ASI's Eric Budd during his Translogic interview.

"BatCat is designed to be very methodical, and very precise," said Officer Rich Nagatoshi who was instrumental in bringing the BatCat to the LAPD. The BatCat can be equipped with a variety of attachments such as lifting forks or even a massive claw capable of crushing a car. The BatCat's versatility makes is the first choice of bomb squad officers in difficult and dangerous situations. "When we roll up on scene, it's because they need us."


The highly publicized capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, was an incredible showcase of law enforcement skill and effectiveness. It was also a showcase for the usefulness of robotic technology in high tension and potentially dangerous circumstances.

In the hours that followed the release of their photographs, the Tsarnaev brothers were responsible for the murder of an MIT police officer, a carjacking, and a furious firefight with authorities (which left an officer critically wounded and Dzhokhar's brother dead). Law enforcement officials deemed the two brothers armed and extremely dangerous.

The day-long manhunt came to an end when police stormed a boat where Dzhokhar was hiding and took him into custody.

In volatile situations such as this, the highest priority of law enforcement officials is to ensure the safety of both citizens and officers. Authorities descending on the boat where Tsarnaev was holed up feared he may again resist arrest with firearms or worse by detonating explosives. In response, police used a bomb disposal robot to inspect the boat for threats and later an armored vehicle equipped with a robotic arm to remove the boat's covering and expose Tsarnaev. While no explosive devices were found at the scene, the situation shows how robotic technology can be used to keep officers safe.


On the opposite side of the United States, the Los Angeles Police Department use what's known as the BatCat (Bomb Assessment Tactical Counter Assault Tool), a large, remotely operated tele-handler, in similar situations. The BatCat is equipped with cameras and sensors to for navigation as well as a telescopic, claw-like implement that is capable of tearing down walls and lifting entire vehicles.

The BatCat has been instrumental in several situation, including a bomb threat last December on an empty police cruiser parked in an area to deter crime. The threat turned out to be a hoax, but had there been any explosives, LAPD robotics would have been in position to safely extract and diffuse the device.

As robotics technology becomes increasingly powerful and affordable, more of these units will find their way into the hands of law enforcement officials, better equipping them to safely handle dangerous situations. However, this technology is still far from perfect. The research and development team at ASI is in the process of tackling the difficult questions of handling explosive in such as buildings where no GPS or radio signals can reach (known as GPS-denied environments), as well as going up stairs, avoiding obstacles, and opening doors. These next generation robots will be areas better equipped to handle dangerous situations like hazardous material spills, nuclear environments, disaster recovery, and indoor reconnaissance with little to no operator intervention.


As the United States combat presence scales down in the Iraq and Afghanistan regions, so does US military spending on robotics, says Valerie Insinna, Staff Writer for the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA). In her recent article Opportunities for Non-Military Robots Increase, Insinna focuses on how Robotics companies will soon find it necessary to look to other markets as defense resources dry up. Many companies are already looking to consumer products and agriculture.

"In the past, defense and security sales made up about 40 percent of iRobot's revenue," Insinna quoted Matthew Lloyd, spokesman of iRobot. "Because of decreased contracts with the military and a 28-percent increase in sales of its home robots such as the Roomba, sales of defense robots are now only 10 percent of the company's business."

Several years ago, Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) found itself with a similar need to innovate. Previous to 2008, ASI relied primarily on military research grants and partnerships with Department of Defense prime contractors. Much of that business dried up as the recession hit commercial and government budgets heavily in 2008.

ASI's President and CEO, Mel Torrie, realized that something needed to happen.

"It was innovate or die at that point," said Torrie. "We recognized that we needed to make a fundamental change not only to where we were getting our business, but also to the kind of offering we provide to our customers." Starting in 2008, ASI expanded product offerings to markets in the private sector.


"Throughout the years, we have done projects in agriculture and mining, so we had a good foundation of understanding and experience to move us into those industries," said Torrie.

"We also recognized that we needed to innovate from being primarily a project-based company to being a product-based company. Some of that transition is still in progress, but we feel that it better positions us to provide what our customers need."

In 2011, ASI also added automotive proving grounds to its pillar markets. Torrie explained that catering to three out of four markets dominated by the private sector will insulate ASI from future downturns in the US military budget as well as downturns in any single industry.

"Long term," Torrie continued, "robotics is going to be critical to the military side of things, so we still have an emphasis there. We have several key product offerings that thrive in both domestic and international military environments. But we've found success in spreading our universal automation technologies into other markets.

"We feel that ASI is well positioned for the foreseeable future and ahead of many companies that are just now finding the need to innovate."

Read more about the future of military ground robotics in the NDIA article: Opportunities for Non-Military Robots Increase.


LAPD BATCAT used in bomb threat hoax
The LAPD BATCAT, shown here lifting a police cruiser thought to have explosives planted on it, features automation technology by ASI.

After several anonymous 911 calls, the Los Angeles Police Department responded to a bomb threat outside Los Angeles' oldest Jewish temple. The caller warned of a bomb planted inside an empty police patrol car parked in the area to deter crime. As bomb squad officers arrived on the scene, so did their big guns: the automated BATCAT Telehandler and another (non-ASI) bomb inspection robot. The two robots were used to lift the vehicle, break windows, blow the trunk lock, and provide remote surveillance to determine if the vehicle was safe for police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs to approach.

Dangerous circumstances, like this December 18th incident, happen every day throughout the world, and police officers risk their lives every day to protect the people in their communities.


In many instances, officers are asked to investigate bomb threats, enter dangerous buildings, and face risky unknowns with little to no knowledge or support.

Companies like Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) are well aware of the dangers faced by these highly trained professionals and have created solutions that are designed to help officers investigate and neutralize dangers while keeping at safe distances.

Vehicle automation technologies, such as those found in the LAPD BATCAT (Bomb Assessment Tactical Counter Assault Tool), have many applications in many industries, but few applications create more beneficial results than keeping police and military personnel out of harm's way.

In another incident in April 2011, a LAPD officer lay in critical condition after a deranged gunman shot the him in the jaw and shoulder. The gunman then barricaded himself inside his home initiating a standoff that lasted until the LAPD used the BatCat to robotically tear down the walls of the home and inspect the area with a camera.

The gunman was confirmed dead by the BatCat camera, presumably from gunshot wounds sustained in the firefight with police. By using vehicle automation technology, the LAPD was able to bring this standoff to a safe ending without attempting a risky entry into a home controlled by a man that had already seriously wounded one officer.



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PETERSBORO, UTAH—July 31, 2012. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) awarded patent rights to Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) for the Guideline® Robotic Convoy System (No. 8, 116, 921, B2).

The Guideline system provides a variety of significant benefits to users:
  • Reduce driving personnel by 2x or more
  • Keep more military personnel out of danger in combat zones
  • Increase efficiency of non-combat or industrial zones
  • Integrate with any size of vehicle from small ATVs to heavy military transports


  • Operate autonomously in all terrain, road, or weather conditions
  • Failsafe redundancy for GPS/laser-guided convoy systems in case of signal loss or interference
Guideline is a robotically controlled system mounted to the front of military or industrial vehicles. Each Guideline unit contains a Kevlar tether on a mechanical spool. Sensors in the unit monitor the vector, speed, and length of the tether leaving or returning to the spool and relay the data to the vehicle's automation kit. The kit's on-board computer determines the position and speed of the lead vehicle and plots a course for the autonomous vehicle that follows the exact path of the leader.


As the lead vehicle accelerates, Guideline automatically increases the buffer distance between the two vehicles to allow for a safe stopping distance.

"What seems to excite people the most, says Mel Torrie, President and CEO of ASI, "is that Guideline can be fielded now. It's simple, fail-safe, and doesn't depend on sensors that can be jammed or obstructed. It is also very affordable in low quantities."

ASI's Guideline is currently being used in field trials in the United States, Australia, and Singapore for a variety of operational scenarios.

# # #

About ASI

For nearly 14 years, ASI has been a world leader in unmanned ground vehicle systems. From their northern Utah headquarters, ASI serves clients in the mining, agriculture, automotive, military, and manufacturing industries with robotic solutions ranging from driver assistance to full, multi-vehicle autonomy. ASI's world-class engineering staff is dedicated to the ideals of innovation, safety, simplicity, and quality.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PETERSBORO, UT—Sept. 30, 2011. ASI delivered (10) Guideline® Robotic Convoy System units for fielding in-theater by a major defense prime contractor. The units will be integrated onto that contractor’s autonomous robotic platform allowing for reliable leader-follower behavior in GPS and RF-denied areas at highway speeds.

Guideline is a very simple and reliable form of vehicle automation. Rather than installing a full sensor-suite with GPS-based navigation, optical or laser obstacle detection and other expensive sensors, the Guideline kit consists of a single sensor box that easily mounts to the front of any vehicle. A spring-loaded Kevlar tether extends from the sensor unit and clips onto any vehicle.

The Guideline-equipped vehicle then follows the leader vehicle, safely tracking the leader’s position and speed.


The unit contains a Kevlar tether on a sensor-equipped spool along with sensors that detect the direction the tether leaves the sensor.

By combining the vector of the tether with the length of tether extended from the sensor, Guideline is able to accurately determine the position and speed of the leader vehicle, and follow the same path. As the lead vehicle accelerates, Guideline will automatically increase the buffer distance between the vehicles.

# # #

About ASI

For nearly 14 years, ASI has been a world leader in unmanned ground vehicle systems. From their northern Utah headquarters, ASI serves clients in the mining, agriculture, automotive, military, and manufacturing industries with robotic solutions ranging from driver assistance to full, multi-vehicle autonomy. ASI's world-class engineering staff is dedicated to the ideals of innovation, safety, simplicity, and quality.


Teamed with UXOD Automation (composed of ASI, SAIC, Kairos Autonomi, and Zonge International), ASI took first prize in 2011′s RoboticRange Clearance Competition (R2C2) sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Army Corps of Engineers.

Using ASI’s vehicle automation expertise, software, and controls, ASI demonstrated robotic vegetation clearance (including tree removal using an autonomous John Deere Feller-Buncher), surface clearance, subsurface mapping, and robotic excavation of buried UXO (Unexploded Ordinance). The competition took place on August 7-14, 2011, at Camp Guernsey, WY.


Description of the Event from the competition’s website: The Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) in collaboration with the US Air Force and US Army conducted R2C2 to foster the ability to clear training ranges of debris and unexploded ordnance (UXO) using robotic technologies.

The purpose of R2C2 was to quickly tap into the innovation and ingenuity of the commercial robotic technology sector to improve the safety and effectiveness of the four tasks traditionally associated with range clearing operations: 1) Vegetation Clearance, 2) Surface Clearance, 3) Geophysical Mapping, 4) Subsurface Clearance.


On Monday April 4, 2011, the Los Angeles Police Department used the "BATCAT" (formally the “Bomb Assessment Tactical Counter Assault Tool) in a Sylmar, CA standoff between police and a gunman who shot a police officer.

The BATCAT is a 39,000 pound tele-handler built by Caterpillar, and automated jointly by ASI and Northrop Grumman Remotec.

The fifty foot telescoping arm is equipped with video cameras and a range of attachments.

During the standoff in Sylmar, the BATCAT was used to break down walls and move obstacles out of the way to give its cameras a better view inside the house without putting officers in further danger.


Cameras from the extendable arm were able to confirm that the gunman, Sergio O. Salazar, 53, had died inside his home from wounds sustained in the shootout with officers. The LAPD officer wounded by Salazar is listed as critical but stable condition Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills.