BEAR gives soldiers a lift

A robot — dubbed bear — which has been designed to find, pick up and rescue soldiers on the battlefield, has received a grant from the US Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Centre (TATRC).

A prototype of the rescue robot has been developed by US firm Vecna Robotics which uses patent-pending technology to enable it to pick up a human dummy and carry it for up to 50 minutes while remaining in an upright position.

Battlefield Extraction and Retrieval Robot (BEAR) uses a combination of three distinct technologies.

Its powerful upper body is controlled by hydraulics, while its movement is provided by two independent sets of tracked legs.

The key technology is known as dynamic balancing behaviour (DBB), which enables the robot to balance on the joints at the end of its limbs.

It is claimed that the machine can remain balanced and upright whether resting on its hips, ankles or knees.

The current prototype is controlled by a human operator using wireless remote control, but it is envisaged that future BEARs will have an increasing level of autonomy.

The robot has been described by TATRC’s programme manager, Gary Gilbert, as the most promising approach to what he described as the ‘holy grail’ of mobile robotics — to enable the removal of human casualties from dangerous battlefield situations.

However, Vecna also plans to use BEAR in a number of other non-military applications.

In hospitals and care homes, for instance, it could help lift people with disabilities who are unable to move without assistance, thereby relieving the burden on staff.

The robot could also be used to help prevent bed sores by repositioning immobile patients at regular intervals.

This version of BEAR would be optimised for hospital environments, where being able to negotiate tight spaces is a priority, and would be fitted with software systems that enable it to perform safe repositioning procedures.

It is claimed that a semi-autonomous HomeBEAR could also be used in a domestic environment to assist not only in movement but also to detect any unusual behaviour and, if necessary, alert the appropriate parties, such as family or paramedics.