Tuesday, June 18, 2024

DRDO DECK: Remotely Operated Vehicle Based Engineering Solution For Hazardous Environment For Armed Forces

By Kathika Roy, P M Naik & P M Kurulkar

Unmanned systems have become an integral part of our day-to-day life; be it for security, laboratory research, medical industries, space exploration, entertainment as well as industrial automation and production. These systems can monitor threats, do surveillance, provide remote support, interact, as well as train themselves with human-like capability. The research on unmanned systems started way back in the beginning of twentieth century, but has gained its pace due to the advancement in high density electronics and sensors, high endurance power sources, lightweight materials and efficient controllers. 

They cover a wide range of military application domain spreading land, water as well as air for surveillance, reconnaissance, offensive mission, ordnance handling etc. Unmanned Systems are classified as Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV), Unmanned Aerial vehicle (UAV) and Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV). Globally, these areas have been the focus of developmental efforts and received a tremendous thrust by the users perceiving their advantages and efficiency. 

Amongst these Unmanned Systems developed worldwide, UGVs established their mark during the Second World War where remotely operated tanks were used to carry explosive material to the field. Flexible locomotion and payload capability made the trend of developing different types of UGVs for driving modern warfare and reached to a greater height. Starting from Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to Fully Autonomous system, the development cycle of UGVs has seen all the efforts to make the system more reliable, rugged and user friendly. 

ROV are systems which can be operated remotely for tasks which are dangerous in nature such as handling hazardous material or surveillance in unstructured, unsafe terrain. These systems can be operated from a nearby range to a distance of more than kilometers keeping in mind operator safety. Real time video feed from the on-board cameras of ROV ensure ease of navigation through unstructured terrain and efficient object handling from a control station. 

Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) has a rich experience of two decades of working on development of UGVs for various applications and have established pioneering technologies necessary for the development of the same. The efforts have resulted in successfully evaluating products in actual fields. 

At R&DE(E) Pune the system development efforts were mainly focused upon user requirements in the field of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) handling, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and explosive (CBRNe) Reconnaissance, unexploded ordnances (UXO) handling, Mine detection and laying, as well as Surveillance.

The security forces including the Army, Paramilitary Forces, State Police and Disaster Management agencies are facing deadly threats from IEDs. To enhance the counter IED capabilities, extensive research efforts started at R&DE(E) for the development of ROV in the year 2002.  The aim was to develop a system with features as per the user need and perspective considering the technical capability, resources along with extensive market analysis.  At the end of three years, R&DE(E) came up one of a kind during those days in the Unmanned system category called ROV ‘Daksh’ , an integration of multi-domain technologies from concept to product realisation within 30 months. 

 Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Daksh

ROV ‘Daksh’ is remotely controlled through a RF link from a Master Control Station (MCS) over a range of 500m line-of-sight (LOS) or up to three walls within buildings. The system also has an  optional fiber-optic control for 100m in case of jamming. The ROV has six degrees of freedom manipulator arm with a payload lifting capability upto 20 kg. It has multiple switching cameras on pan tilt unit for real time all around video transmission and portable X ray imager for locating fuse on the IED. The recoilless water jet disrupter on the system can defuse the IED remotely. 

‘Daksh’ can be deployed within buildings and climb stairs for handling and extracting hazardous materials or IEDs. It has an on-board shotgun for blasting though door locks as well as breaking the windshield or side glass panes of likely car bombs. The ROV and MCS are carried to site on a specially designed Carrier Vehicle which can accommodate a crew of seven with space for armaments, battery charger and other accessories. Services are satisfactorily using ROV ‘Daksh’ for more than a decade.

The exciting journey of Remotely Operated Vehicles which began with ‘Daksh’ at R&DE(E), continued to outgrow in the form of various offshoots with upgraded technology, advanced features, improved response and efficiency. 



The next in line was ‘Daksh Spotter’ with CBRNe detection and IED handling capability. The ROV is equipped with multiple sensors and instruments to detect and measure the CBRNe contamination levels in real time and transmit it to the MCS. The presence of all the sensors on-board shall also help in detection of dirty bombs (containing combinational threats).

Mini/Confined Space ROV (CSROV)

The use of ROV ‘Daksh’ was limited to urban deployment scenarios where it can easily negotiate through doors and pathways, but due to its overall dimension the system was not deployable inside confined spaces such as aircraft cabins or railway compartments. These limitations paved a way for a miniature version of ROV ‘Daksh’ in the form of ‘Daksh Mini’/Confined Space ROV (CSROV).

Mini/Confined Space ROV (CSROV)

CSROV has been designed to traverse through confined spaces within train compartments and aircrafts, reach onto the berth or the cabin baggage space and remove any suspected object weighing up to 8 kg. The CSROV can also assess the threat by using an on-board X-Ray scanner and thereafter defuse using a water jet disrupter. The CSROV can be deployed remotely from a distance of 200 m and is driven from a backpack based Master Control Station (MCS). 

Scout/Surveillance ROV(SROV)

Along with the development of CSROV, R&DE(E) has also taken up design of a back pack based miniaturized robotic platform for surveillance named ‘Daksh Scout’/Surveillance ROV(SROV). SROV is a remotely operated vehicle having multi-role capability for Indian Army and other security agencies involved in counter terrorist application. SROV can be deployed using a hand held operator console from a Line-of-Sight range of 200m.  

This can traverse through urban and cross country terrain, able to negotiate up to 35 degree slope/stair and can disrupt IEDs using water jet disrupters. It is equipped with multiple cameras with day and night real time transmission. This has an additional payload of charge dispensing mechanism which can drop 400 gms of explosive and remotely detonate the same from a safe distance. Both SROV and CSROV prototypes have been developed and successfully demonstrated showcasing all the functionalities. 

 Unexploded Ordnances Handling Robot (UXOR) 

With a plethora of application domains where ROVs can contribute and reduce the associated uncertainty during  human operations.  One such application is handling UXOs i.e. Bombs, Mortar and Missiles weighing up to 1000 kg remotely from 2 km LOS.

  Unexploded Ordnances Handling Robot (UXOR) 

The UXO Handling Robot (UXOR) is based on a Skid Steer Loader (SSL) suitably modified for remote operations and equipped with two manipulator arms along with an abrasive water jet cutting machine for case entry/through cut of UXOs. The seven axis manipulator arm holds the nozzle which sprays water mixed with abrasive compound at a very high pressure to cut through steel up to 25mm thick ensuring that the UXO is safe by removal of fuse for smaller ordnance or case cutting for larger bombs. 

Fire Fighting ROV (FFROV)

Fire Fighting ROV (FFROV)

Apart from IED handling activities, the thrust areas for ROVs were extended multi dimensionally by the end of decade from inception of ROV Daksh into the Army. There were discussions on Riot Control vehicles (RC ROV) which can be deployed remotely for disbursing crowds or Remote Controlled Earth Movers (RCEM) which can be used during natural disasters for road clearance by Border security Force. The use of disaster response robots such as Fire Fighting ROV gained importance. 

R&DE(E), Pune which had already gained expertise in the similar systems and had all the technical proficiency, could rope into the User requirements and proved the concept by designing the prototypes within a very short span of time.  These prototypes have been designed for various Low Intensity Conflicts (LIC) operations and have been demonstrated to the Army, Navy, Paramilitary Forces, State Police and Disaster Management agencies. 

Riot Control ROV                          

Unmanned Ground Mobile Platform (UGMP)

In addition to the remote operations of UGVs, possibilities of developing systems with supervisory autonomy as well as full autonomy have been initiated and prototypes have been developed successfully. Unmanned Ground Mobile Platform (UGMP) is one such rugged all-terrain platform which is autonomous with static and dynamic obstacle avoidance. UGMP is capable of patrolling across rough terrain, perimeter and border surveillance, logistics support with payload capacity of 150kg, real time situational awareness through on-board cameras as well as safeguarding of fixed assets. 

Unmanned Ground Mobile Platform (UGMP)

Although the defence sector is leading the innovation in this area, there are other factors influencing the growth of the market with increase in demand for homeland security as well as commercial applications. With the established technologies in the domain of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, these unmanned systems are becoming more independent and capable of handling multi-dimensional responsibilities with minimum or no human interventions. The technological growth in the software domain with high end processing devices are making the systems capable of training themselves for future warfare with different dimensions altogether. 

 The authors are DRDO scientists from the Research & Development Establishment (Engineers) Pune. Kathika Roy is Scientist F, P M Naik is Scientist G while P M Kurulkar serves as the OS & Director there


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