US Navy recruits robotic weapons loader

Foster-Miller, Inc has received a five-year, $25 million contract from the US Naval Air Systems Command to develop a new robotic shipboard weapons loader.

Foster-Miller, Inc announced yesterday that it has received a five-year, $25 million contract from the US Naval Air Systems Command in Lakehurst, New Jersey to develop a new robotic shipboard weapons loader.

Based on a Foster-Miller technological breakthrough in direct-drive electric motors, the project is said to have the potential to revolutionise robotic loading capabilities.

The current practice for loading aircraft on Navy ships involves heavy manual lifting, often in awkward or confined positions. This presents the risk of injury to the loading crews, as well as limiting their productivity.

Foster- Miller, working with the MIT Field and Space Robotics Lab, has produced a concept design for a robotic shipboard weapons loader that uses omni- directional wheels to manoeuvre between the aircraft and existing transport equipment and allows a single operator to lift and position the payload using a robotic manipulator.

In researching the new robotic system, Foster-Miller found that the torque and size requirements for some of the actuators exceed the capability of all commercial electric motors and transmissions. Of existing technology, only high-pressure hydraulics provided sufficient torque-density, but these devices are a known problem for the Navy due to leaks, downtime and excessive maintenance requirements.

Tasked with finding a more compact electric solution, Foster-Miller explored transmission and electric motor designs, leading to a motor architecture which provides approximately 50 times the torque-density of existing direct-drive motors.

Having only one moving part and no gearing or high-pressure seals, the motor is said to promise unprecedented reliability and controllability, and is directly competitive with hydraulic devices.

‘This program represents a major new production business initiative at Foster-Miller,’ said Dr. William Ribich, president. ‘We look forward to bringing our extensive robotics experience and our new technology breakthroughs to bear to provide optimised, safer working environments and to improve the performance of our military.’

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