Robotics family leverages open architectures to counter ordnance threats

Designers and engineers are taking advantage of the ability of open architectures and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies to counter emerging threats quicker by more easily upgrading legacy systems with newer, faster technology. In one such project, a U.S. Navy-sponsored program focuses on a family of robotics that will keep soldiers out of harm’s way.

The U.S. Navy teamed up with John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (JHU/APL) and an industry team that includes Northrop Grumman, OpenJAUS, and GuardBot to work on the U.S. Navy’s Advanced Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robotic System (AEODRS) program.

The goal of the program is “to develop modular, open-architecture robotic platforms for use in explosive ordnance disposal across the U.S. Navy,” says Danny Kent, Ph.D., president and cofounder of OpenJAUS. “By utilizing an open architecture, components and modules can be reused across the family of systems. In addition, future technologies and capabilities can rapidly be brought from the research laboratory to the warfighter.”

To that end, the team announced in May 2017 that the AEODRS Increment 1 and Spherical Platform for AEODRS Appliance Research (SPAAR) systems had completed a demonstration for Joint Services EOD Action Officers in Indian Head, Maryland. While Increment 2 and Increment 3 systems are still awaiting award, the U.S. Navy’s AEODRS program aims to be “the Navy’s next-generation, open architecture robotic family of systems,” Kent says.

The program is capitalizing on the open architecture movement, which will help today’s warfighters to fight emerging threats by enabling engineers to quickly adapt new technology to current systems.

JHU – along with the industry team – is taking advantage of the movement. As technology that was once considered a figment of the imagination becomes a reality, it is clear that open architectures are readily addressing the Department of Defense (DoD) demand to quickly upgrade and stay ahead of the game.

In the AEODRS case, the program addresses the dangers of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). “It is comprised of three classes of vehicles, Increment 1, Increment 2, and Increment 3. The Increment 1 Primary System Integrator program has been awarded to Northrop Grumman Corp.,” Kent explains.

Leveraging COTS components and open architectures is a big part of the program, as COTS has helped the military control costs, particularly during its sequestration years. “Using COTS components on government programs such as AEODRS enables the military to leverage the rapid progress being made in the robotics community,” Kent says.

This is especially essential in the field of robotics: “What is innovative technology today may be obsolete in a matter of years and sometimes months,” he explains. OpenJAUS – a Florida company specializing in middleware solutions for unmanned systems developers – is helping commercial companies adapt their technology to the AEODRS program at a quicker pace, lower cost, and at a reduced risk, Kent adds. ”By utilizing OpenJAUS’s commercial JAUS and AEODRS software libraries, companies jumpstart integration into the existing AEODRS architecture.”

Officials consider Increment 1 as the first of a family of open architecture robotic systems designed to be interoperable and having the capability to integrate new technology quickly that will benefit the warfighter.

Kent explains that OpenJAUS’s role in the AEODRS program is “to provide our JAUS [joint architecture for unmanned systems] expertise to JHU/APL and others in the form of architecture analysis and recommendations, software development activities, and general consulting and support. OpenJAUS also provides system integration testing, evaluation, and support to Northrop Grumman as part of its AEODRS Increment 1 project.

Under the program, OpenJAUS supplies software services including “integration of hardware with the program architecture for risk reduction and development of more user-friendly interfaces to tools developed for testing and validation of the AEODRS architecture,” he adds.

Robotic-vehicle maker GuardBot, with support from OpenJAUS, developed the SPAAR system, which enables reconnaissance in harsh environments. Engineers at OpenJAUS integrated the SPAAR architecture with the AEODRS system architecture, according to a statement released by OpenJAUS. The results of this collaboration enabled engineers to integrate and demonstrate a system using “AEODRS Handheld Operator Control Unit (HOCU) and the Multi-Robot Operator Control Unit (MOCU) software application.” (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: AEODRS Increment 1 system and handheld operator control unit. Photo courtesy of OpenJAUS.

The end result of the SPAAR program demonstrates that technology can be more interoperable and will likely prompt engineers to quickly integrate new technologies into the AEODRS family, both of which will benefit military-sponsored programs.