Robot helps fight terrorism - 3/5/02
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Tuesday, March 5, 2002 Comment on this story Send this story to a friend
Image
Max Ortiz / The Detroit News

Paul Muench, a researcher at the Tank Command in Warren, demonstrates the robot at the 2002 Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Cobo Center. It is 4 inches tall and shaped like a bathroom scale.

Robot helps fight terrorism
Army shows off device that detects car bombs

By Anita Lienert / Special to the Detroit News

Image
Max Ortiz / The Detroit News

An operator using wireless technology maneuvers the robot from a distance. It can be programed to sound a warning bell if it finds anything suspicious.
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   DETROIT -- Automotive engineers are getting ready to fight terrorism with a tiny robot that can detect car bombs and will eventually be able to sniff out anthrax and radioactive material.
   David J. Gorsich, a senior research scientist with the Army Tank-Automotive & Armaments Command in Warren, demonstrated the robot, nicknamed "Odis," at the 2002 Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress on Monday. Odis stands for omni-directional inspection system.
   The mobile robot is not even four inches tall and is shaped like an over-sized bathroom scale. It has four small computers onboard and a high-powered light.
   An operator using wireless technology, which includes a joystick and a TV monitor, maneuvers Odis from a distance, sliding it underneath a vehicle to check for bombs in the undercarriage.
   Odis can be programed to sound a warning bell if it finds anything suspicious.
   Engineers demonstrated Odis on a camouflage Humvee on the show floor. The little robot found a suspicious box wrapped in a rag hidden under the military vehicle's transaxle.
   Gorsich, the civilian director of the Warren facility's robotics lab, said security personnel around the U.S. currently are limited to using a primitive car-bomb detection system that consists of little more than a mirror on the end of a broomstick.
   "It's really easy to conceal things in an automobile," Gorsich said. "It's complicated under there, it's dark and you have to know what you're looking for.
   "We envision Odis being put to use by customs agents at the border and by airport parking lot security personnel."
   The robot prototype costs $10,000, but Gorsich said the price would come down once mass production begins in the next year or so. The Army developed Odis in a partnership with Utah State University.The partners are now working on a couple of Odis spinoffs.
   One such robot would be able to traverse rubble-strewn landscapes, such as the one at Ground Zero in New York City or areas hit by earthquakes.
   Another could be programed to swab suspicious areas inside of vehicles or buildings to check for anthrax or other biological or radioactive material.
   And Odis could be programed to read license plates and report information back to law-enforcement officials.
   Gorsich said the Army has been testing Odis at the guard shack at the entrance to its Warren site.
   "The guards love it," he said. "They can stay in a heated building to inspect a car. Who could ask for more?"

You can reach Anita Lienert by e-mail at mailto:ConseEye@aol.com


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