TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. (Oct. 25, 2012) -- Tobyhanna Army Depot's new robotics mission helps warfighters remotely search for improvised explosive devices using either a laptop computer or backpack control system.
The depot's System Integration and Support, Production Engineering, and Communication Systems directorates are involved in fabricating and upgrading several components of the iRobot unmanned ground vehicles.
"There is no doubt that this mission directly saves lives," said Chase Gardner, electronics engineer in the Production Engineering Directorate. "The work we do at the depot with the iRobots provides Soldiers a larger safety blanket and greater sense of security by extending the range of communications between the vehicle and the operator."
The requirement to upgrade two different robots came as part of a Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement asking for improved communication capabilities.
The larger iRobot 510 PackBot system features a front- and rear-facing camera, mechanical arm and two 'forks' that allow the robot to position itself in several different stances. The iRobot 310 Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle is slightly smaller and is controlled using an optic lens. Both systems are operated using video game controllers.
Michael Murray, an electronics integrated systems mechanic in the Communication Systems Directorate, says the mission requires a wide range of knowledge and skills.
"This project uses hands-on skills like Soldering and manual troubleshooting but also incorporates software-based knowledge," he said. "Since it is such a new mission and requires a different type of thinking, a total team effort is required to pull all of our skills together and put out a quality product while adapting to customer requests."
Requests have included fixing a problem with the battery door latches. Increased temperatures would cause the latch to fail, leaving the door unsecured. Had the problem persisted, the robot may not have functioned properly, compromising the safety of the warfighter and his mission. Electronics Worker Nicholas Prehotsky's solution to replace the ineffective latches with snaps not only fixed the problem, but saved time and money.
Tactical Radio Branch chief Patrick Connolly said adapting to challenges and quickly finding solutions is an integral part of the mission.
"Problems are to be expected, but knowing that warfighters count on our work to keep them safe pushes us to be accountable," said Connolly. "I've never seen a team with so much enthusiasm, dedication and pride."
Prehotsky noted that his pride for the mission and for supporting the warfighter pressed him to find answers to several of the iRobot's problems.
"I know that I'm a part of something that directly supports our Soldiers and has the potential to bring even more modern technology to the depot," said Prehotsky.
To date, Tobyhanna has fielded more than 200 iRobot kits to both systems. Connolly said the response from warfighters has been extremely positive.
"From the reports we have received from the field, our customers are very happy about the work we are doing," he said. "In turn, that makes us work harder to maintain that level of success because we know this mission saves lives."
Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces.
About 5,400 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army CECOM.
Headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.