With more than 25 years of research and development into the robotics space, one company took their experience of creating highly customized one-off machines into the production industry. And they have a trained eye on law enforcement.
And when I say robotics space, I meant it. Sarcos Robotics life began in the early 1980's with creating innovative solutions through a set of customer needs and specifications. They've even had some of the more iconic clients, and you've probably already unknowingly seen their work in some of the various theme parks around the country, the mesmerizing fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. They've even done work for the Pentagon and NASA for the space suit testing equipment, prosthetic limbs and MEMS sensors. "We've probably produced more humanoid form factor robots than any other company on the plant," says Ben Wolff, Chairman and CEO of Sarcos Robotics.
It's only recently that the company was able to begin creating more producible solutions. From 2007 to 2014 they owned under the Rayethon brand where their attention was exclusively for the Department of Defense. Wolff and colleagues, he explains, bought the business from Raytheon. "We took our 25 years plus of R&D and custom development work and knowledge the team developed and stared focusing on specific products that we could bring to market at scale," says Wolff.
Luckily for law enforcement and public safety, the Guardian S is the first of those products.
Although Sarcos does manufacture larger siblings for the S, they aren't targeted for law enforcement specifically. The XO, as their site states, "is a powered, untethered, industrial exoskeleton suit that improves human strength and endurance without restricting the operator's freedom of movement." The Guardian GT moves away from the "suit" form and resembles more of an EOD robot – just larger. Aside from the size (the arms are 7 feet long), it seems the biggest difference is control. Its two human-controlled arms mimic the operator's movements. Think your arm instead of knobs and control sticks/buttons.
Sarcos directed their efforts towards the other end of the spectrum with the Guaridan S. "The S is a very small man portable inspection robot," says Wolff. Without an arm, the robot was not meant for manipulation but for surveillance and enhancing situational awareness.
The S runs about 13 pounds. "We're building this robot to put [it] very easily in a backpack or even slung over your shoulder," Wolff explains. That light weight puts the S in a class of a number of small robots, but also with limited capabilities. Once you start going away from the traditional two-treaded robotic tank design stairs, water, and payload become obstacles. Sarcos, however, designed the Guardian S in three sections. The rear holds the battery; the center is a sleeved collar with a series of motors, transmissions and actuators; the front is meant for carrying sensors and cameras. A optional mounted platform will allow the S to carry extra cargo.
It also comes with an option to add Picatinny rails to mount wanted sensors, should additional detail be needed. However, the standard sensors do cover a large range: four multiplexed cameras for a 360-degree view, night vision capability, LED illumination, GPS, IMU, accelerometer, magnetometer, a FLIR 320 x 256 camera, and a rear facing camera to aid navigation. Need more? Use the Picatinny rail or add sensors to the two included sensor bays.
What Can It Do?
At 4.2 inches wide by 5.25 inches high, the Guardian S was designed to fit through small narrow openings. Law enforcement should be able to drive the robot into place, set it into surveillance mode and send audio and video – silently – back to the operator. However, it seems the S wasn't meant for covert missions. "It's not a stealth robot," says Wolff. "It is no louder than any other law enforcement robot that's out there – it emits no noise at all when it is in place and doing surveillance."
But isn't it the getting the robot into place the trick? More covert throwable robots don't have the size to reach higher ground. Yet, other tank-like robots don't exactly fit through air ducts or piping. The motors in the middle section allow the Guardian S to lift up and traverse stairs (at 45-degrees) easily. Sarcos also reports its ability to navigate gravel, sand, dirt, concrete, carpet, and curbs.
The S also includes a magnetic version for vertical travel on applicable surfaces. While the traditional model can travel at 3 to 3.5 mph, they slowed this down to 1.25 mph for more user control. "It can climb vertically or even inverted. We tamp down the speed of that version because you don't want to launch the robot from whatever surface it's on," explains Wolff. Unfortunately this functionality isn't plug-n-play; it's one or the other. Magnetic tracks are built in before shipping.
Sarcos ruggedized the Guardian S to the IP67 standard. It's capable of being decontaminated from hazardous chemicals and withstanding a six-foot drop. They're reportedly working on solutions to extend that for, say, the third story window. "We're looking at the possibility of inserting it into a tube and have the tube go through the window and have it drive out of the tube," mentions Wolff.
"The other thing that is interesting is if you're trying to get it on an elevated location, let's say a roof, second, third, or fourth story, at 13 pounds it is now light enough that larger drones have the ability to carry it to it's destination," he says.
If mud and snow won't stop the Guardian S rain won't either as Sarcos made their robot waterproof up to 3 feet. However, if a body of water is – in fact – an obstacle, that won't be much of a problem. It floats. The rubber treads act as small paddles to swim. The base model (non-magnetic) runs in the $50,000 to $60,000 range. I wouldn’t want to test this unless absolutely necessary.
Operators can communicate with the Guardian S in four different modes. Secure wireless connections integrate the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform and IoT suite. It's includes a 4G cellular connection for a nearly unlimited range – as long as you have network connection. A proprietary radio frequency allows a 1,500 foot range with clear line of sight. Sarcos also makes available a 750 foot long fiber optic tether option. With the very limited range, Wolff explains that Wi-Fi is mainly used for training purposes.
It seems the robot has been nearly overloaded with capability, a mentality that stems from creating custom designs from years past. Yet every area, every environment, every department has it's unique needs. "We've designed it so that with a variety of different sensors can be adapted with the robot without having to reengineer or redesign anything.
"Our hope with this robot, is that we have got it right and that the things people want to be customized or different are modules that we can add or change without having to fundamentally change the design of the robot."