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Scientists, engineers eye 2010 Robotics Rodeo

FORT BENNING, Ga. — The Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning are bracing for an invasion of robots.

The 2010 Robotics Rodeo will be staged on post Oct. 12-15 at the McKenna Urban Operations Complex. The Maneuver Battle Lab and U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center are co-hosting the second annual event, which is expected to attract more than 1,000 people.

Organizers said it’s an opportunity for scientists and engineers from government and industry to demonstrate new and innovative unmanned ground systems to Army personnel and the research and development communities. The Extravaganza portion on the final two days is open to the public, but registration is required in advance.

“Robotics are some of the most advanced scientific technologies out there,” said Mr. Mike Kennedy, experimentation manager for the Maneuver Battle Lab’s unmanned systems team. “The bottom line is robots are just really cool. For the public, this is a chance to come out and see some things they’ve only read about or seen on TV. It’s a chance to really see it in person.”

The Robotics Rodeo isn’t a competition — it’s a market research event designed to measure new technologies that could potentially benefit Army robotics programs, he said. Soldiers check out the new gadgets, ask questions and provide feedback to industry representatives.

This year’s event features two demonstrations: the Extravaganza and the Robotic Technology Observation, Demonstration and Discussion, or RTOD2. The latter takes place Oct. 12-13 but will be used as a formal evaluation period for Soldiers and government experts only.

“We will use that data to compare the technologies demonstrated against some of the current robotics capability gaps the Army has and see if we can find possible materiel solutions to fill those gaps,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We’re thinking something might be demonstrated here that could be of immediate operational usefulness.”

The inaugural Robotics Rodeo was held at Fort Hood, Texas. The Maneuver Battle Lab said it was moved to Fort Benning because LTG Michael Vane, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center at Training and Doctrine Command, appointed the MCoE as the lead agency for ground robotics.

About six months ago, TARDEC solicited industry representatives to put together proposals that fit into four categories at this year’s rodeo: improvements to small robotic systems, manned and unmanned teaming, unmanned air system and unmanned ground vehicle collaboration, and general robotics. Mr. Kennedy said it resulted in about 70 companies earning invitations, including one from Israel, with more than 100 demonstrations planned.

He said it’s unclear whether Fort Benning will become the event’s permanent venue but officials are optimistic.

“I think this is going to go very well, and they’ll want to come back,” he said.