The Spider-Bots Are Coming

BAE Systems has signed a $38 million agreement with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory regarding the joint development of miniature robots for military use. The robots will be developed by a multi-disciplined alliance of scientists and researchers from the army and the academia. The scientists of the Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology (MAST) Collaborative Technology Alliance will be working on the development of miniature spider-like robots, which will be capable of carrying out intelligence-gathering tasks in places that are too dangerous for soldiers to enter.

The four principal members of the alliance are BAE Systems, which will lead the microsystems integration, the University of Michigan, which will lead the microelectronics research, the University of Maryland, leading the microsystem mechanics, and the University of Pennsylvania, which will lead processing for autonomous operation research. Five additional members are the University of California at Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology & Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of New Mexico, and the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

MAST aims to advance research and technology that will not only benefit the current project, but will also lead to future applications in fields such as small-scale aeromechanics and ambulation, propulsion, sensing, processing, and communications. To begin with, the project will run for five years, and may possibly be extended for five more. The autonomous, multifunctional miniature robots that will be developed in the framework of the project are intended for use in urban environments and complex terrains.

“Robotic platforms extend the warfighter’s senses and reach, providing operational capabilities that would otherwise be costly, impossible, or deadly to achieve,” said Dr. Joseph Mait, MAST Cooperative Agreement Manager for the Army Research Laboratory. “The MAST alliance is a highly collaborative effort, with each partner from government, academia, and industry playing a significant role.” An animation video depicting the future robots in action can be found here.

TFOT recently covered a six-inch robotic spy plane modeled after a bat. The bat-robot’s purpose is gathering visual and auditory information, as well as smells, in urban combat zones and transmitting the data to combatants in real time. TFOT also reported on ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer), a robotic vehicle which was developed by a team of companies and academic institutions led by JPL Robotics. Other robots recently covered by TFOT are the rat-bot, which is designed to aid in rescuing missions, and the Lemur, a robot developed by NASA in order to assist in future space missions. 

More information on the MAST alliance can be found here.