A safer world with arachnid robot

Researchers in Australia are working to develop the Ultimus Spider; a robotic device designed to rid militarised zones of all types of landmine.

The four metres wide autonomous arachnid is the latest idea generated by a longer-term research program under Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation.

The theory behind a remote-controlled robotic vehicle is that it would be able to activate anti-personnel and anti-tank mines without being destroyed in the resulting blast. The Spider is aimed at ‘proofing’ terrain where mines have been laid. Proofing involves forcefully detonating wide lanes through known minefields to destroy mines en masse.

The basis behind the Ultimus Spider is that the different parts of the robot are cheap and replaceable so that if one mine-detonating limb is damaged by an explosion, it can be removed and replaced the field.

The only really vulnerable part of the Ultimus Spider is its central processor, which occupies a small part of the whole system’s surface area and is housed in a contoured, armoured carapace that rides high above the ground. The device’s human controller stays well back behind the machine, travelling safely in the cleared lane.

It is proposed that where possible, the Ultimus Spider will be made up from low cost, commercial-off-the-shelf parts, giving the it a logistical advantage against the proliferation of low cost landmines that lay all over the globe.

‘At the moment an army can lay cheap mines that force their opponent to make a massive effort in people and resources to clear,’ said Dr Dimitri Sivan of DSTO’s Land Operations Division. ‘With the Spider, we hope that we can make the response so cheap, that things will go the other way, and it won’t be feasible to bother laying landmines any more.’

With this in mind, the project aims to eventually produce a vehicle with a price of less than $25,000. The legs and their detonating rollers would be equally as cheap and modular.

Sivan said that when the Spider sets off an explosion from an anti-tank mine, the designers plan that it will ‘degrade gracefully’, whereby sections of the machine could be blown off without crippling the whole system.

Besides the protection and isolation afforded the central processor, the huge spread of the vehicles wheeled feet would ensure that an explosion set off by one roller takes place well away from any other vulnerable component.