Magazine des ingénieurs de l'armement: Keep men away from danger

Tuesday, May 02 2017
Discover in this article how ECA Group solutions contributes against emerging threats in the field of robotics to counter nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical risks.

Published in Le magazine des ingénieurs de l'armement N°111, February 2017

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The multiplication of terrorist attacks and incidents involving biological or chemical hazards around the world has made necessary to "clear up doubts" in every situation identified as a threat. These new risks require new responses directly impacting the means of action to be made available to the intervention teams.

Among these, robotic systems play an essential role. It enables to carry out observations or deported actions by limiting the exposure of men to the dangers.

The last 30 years have witnessed the occurrence of new types of radiological or chemical events: industrial accidents (Chernobyl, AZF Toulouse, Fukushima) or attacks (sarin gaz dispersion in the Tokyo subway in 1995), leading to a new appreciation of the threat of dissemination, by different vectors, radiological, biological or chemical agents - a threat called "CBRN-e" ("e" for "explosives").

Since the end of the 1990s, French and international companies have invested to develop new responses and solutions to deal with CBRN-e threats and its consequences based on three main axes: detection or characterization of products, neutralization of threats, protection of properties and people.

State of the Art in Detection and Characterization.

Different sensor technologies allow to give raw information about agents to detect chemicals, toxic poisons, explosives, radioactive elements by:

  • Sampling and analysing from a sample collected directly on the suspect package;
  • Steam aspiration via a sensor, which, thanks to the principle of flame emission spectrometry, detects various chemical, toxicological or explosive elements
  • X-ray, which provides an image of the interior of a package but no information on the nature of the materials;
  • Emission of electromagnetic waves at high frequencies with a GPR radar (Ground Penetrating Radar) which determines the shape of an object buried in the ground;
  • Neutron interrogation, a technique that chemically characterizes materials in addition to radiography X.

State of the Art in Neutralization

For the neutralization phase, the choice of means is correlated with the type of threat and the associated level of risk. The main technologies used are:

  • The use of pressurized water cannons (disrupters) focused on the target to be neutralized; The cutting by a jet of water with high pressure implemented with a motorized head enables to produce circular or linear cuts;
  • Interference which renders inoperative the Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) whose firing is triggered by a remotely controlled device;
  • Cryogenics, by the diffusion of liquid nitrogen inside a suspect package that neutralizes all the electronic parts of the IED, thus enabling the EOD operator to defuse the system.

All these means (detection and neutralization) can be implemented manually near the suspect objects by the intervention technicians equipped with the appropriate protections. Remotely operated robots, however, offer considerable benefits in terms of managing the danger and performing longer missions than the ones possible with the performance and / or constraints of an EOD protection suit.

Threat neutralizer intervention robots

The use of ground robots began with military applications during the Second World War with the first wire-guided robots. Other applications emerged in the 1970s with the conquest of space and the development in the civilian nuclear field for operational or accident-related operations, as for example in Fukushima.

In counter-IED operations, the first robots also emerged in the 1970s, and were used in particular by the British Army to carry out anti-terrorist operations in Northern Ireland.

Since the 1990s, the use of robots has become widespread, and threats teams are now equipped with high-performance systems embedded with the latest technologies in the electronics and communications fields. Depending on the evolution of the threats and missions to be accomplished, different sizes and configurations of robots have been developed. The robots can be equipped with payloads or mission modules dedicated to specific functions such as:

  • Inspection: 360 ° camera turret, thermal camera, telescopic mast;
  • IED processing: multi-axis manipulator arm, X-ray system, disrupter guide, GPR, explosive charge deposition;
  • NRBC treatment: carrying of chemical or radiological sensors, liquid or gaseous sample collector.

These different robots with support functions (autonomous navigation, automatic or semi-automatic obstacle crossing, shape recognition, etc.) enable the operator to concentrate on his basic mission, which is to eliminate the threat.

In this field ECA Group, a 100% French company, excels in the field of multi-environment robotics and offers a wide range of proven Ground robots for operations in the defence sector and for security forces to deal with all types of threats.

Future prospects

The aim today is to simplify as much as possible the control of the robots through intuitive control systems, increase operational efficiency by enabling collaboration between different types of robots and improve the analysis and processing autonomy of obtained by embedded intelligence. In this suite ECA Group has developed a common control station, intuitive to operate all robots, and works on the integration of recognition modules and automatic piloting in complex environments. Improving mobility and robot crossing capabilities are also major challenges and ECA

Dynamics, founded in 2015, is exploring possibilities with high-definition systems for defence and security applications. All these developments remain focused on the major objective of enabling man to carry out security interventions in ever more hostile environments and face threats that are increasingly more diffuse and severe by the day.

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