If you’ve ever either been involved in or watched an operation on television involving the use of robots in IED or bomb detection operations, the chances are you’ve seen some of Endeavor Robotics products in action.
Endeavor is the largest independent supplier of battle-tested UGVs (unmanned ground vehicle) to the U.S. military with over 6000 robot units worldwide operating in over 40 countries. Their robots have over 3 million hours of operational experience. They’ve been in the industry for the past 27 years, formerly operating as Defense & Security Unit at IRobot. They offer a very diverse, versatile array of UGVs to support the military, law enforcement and public safety as well as the industrial sectors. Their units range from the 5-lb FirstLook to the 500-lb Kobra which can lift about 350 pounds.
Endeavor recently secured three different contracts with the Department of Defense and it would be easy to spend days talking about each of their different units. But the smallest of the bunch the 5-pound throwable FirstLook was the one that SOFREP was interested in this week. Endeavor just recently got a contract with the DOD to furnish 75 of these FirstLook robots and they are indeed an intriguing piece of equipment that may become valuable tools for our troops in the field and especially in the SOF arena.
SOFREP initially saw the FirstLook robot during the SOFIC Conference in Tampa and watching it go thru the paces, we made it a point of keeping up with the company who was then in the process of trying to get a contract for the smallest of their line. When they were awarded the contract in September, SOFREP contacted the company and we were given access to the facility and an opportunity to test out their wares so to speak. The company is completely located in the United States to include all of their manufacturing and R&D facilities. They also hire veterans, with 20 percent of their workforce former vets. CEO Sean Bielat is a former active duty Marine Corps officer and still a member of the Marine Reserve. He gave us a quick overview of the products that they make. While showing one of the robots that have been in combat in Iraq, (Endeavor’s robots have been in constant combat operations since 2002 in Afghanistan) we saw one that had been blown up.
Apparently, the insurgents placed a pressure plate under the ground in front of an IED and once the robot approached it blew up and destroyed the unit. Bielat said that the units become so enamored with the equipment that they become like members of the units themselves. “They told us, ‘we don’t want another unit, fix our buddy and send him back’”, he said.
From there, Nate Winn, one of the company’s Field Service Engineer showed us the line of robots and then he put the FirstLook through some of the paces. It is an intriguing candidate for Special Operations forces because of the small size, versatility, and ease of operation. But in reality, FirstLook can be equally at home in Law Enforcement, Emergency Response units or by industry.
Winn, another former Marine, explained that the system can be used as a radio repeater for all Endeavor robots. This is especially valuable when dealing with a larger building where radio signals can be interrupted.
FirstLook is small, robust (only weighs 5.2 lbs which include the battery) and very easy to use. The typical battery life is 4-6 hours under normal operating conditions.
It is an expandable, very lightweight UGV that provides the operator with immediate situational awareness, performs constant observation and can investigate dangerous or hazardous materials while maintaining a safe, stand-off distance.
It is also tough as hell. FirstLook can survive a drop from a second story onto concrete and is waterproof in up to 3-feet of water. Winn recently took the robot down to Camp Lejeune, NC and wanted some feedback from the troops. While putting it thru a test run, Winn threw the unit onto the roof and showed the Marines how it can check out the situation on top of a target. “But now how do we get it down?”, they asked. Once he drove it off the roof and it bounced off the ground, righted itself and kept going, Winn was swamped with Marines wanting to test it out. Soon they were all throwing FirstLook off the sides and the top of the building and came away thoroughly impressed with the unit’s toughness.
The FirstLook has a zero turn radius, thanks to the track design, can climb obstacles up to seven inches tall, including curbs, and can self right itself when tipped over. It can be thrown thru windows, on top of roofs and can safely check drainage pipes and culverts. It is small enough to go under the foundation of buildings to check for explosives or hazardous materials.
The unit uses a small tablet with a built-in controller with a small screen for the operator to see what is in front of the robot. In addition, the unit has these other features:
- Four Day And Night Cameras with Zoom And Illumination; Two-Way Audio
- Supports Cameras, Sensors, Manipulators, And Disruptors
- Can Reach Speed Of 3.4 MPH (5.5 KM/H)
- Climbs Obstacles Up To 7” (17.8 CM) high, Overcomes Curbs
- Turns In Place, And Self-Rights When Flipped Over
The Endeavor Upoint Multi-Robot Control System can control multiple robots from one central site and control unit. It is a touchscreen tablet that can be used with the operator’s finger, even when wearing gloves or via a stylus pen included.
- Touchscreen-Based Tablet Controller Can Command Multiple Robots, Reducing Upfront Training Time
- Easier Driving with a Virtual Joystick. Touch and Drag Anywhere on the Image and the Robot goes
- Simplified Manipulation With Direct Control of Individual Robot Links
- Superior Range in Congested or Complex Environments
- Extended Non-Line-of-Sight Performance
It is perfect for small unit use with an extremely small footprint. Its small size, coupled with weight and mission application make it a very good asset to have during in-house clearing, combat in urban areas, investigations, IED identification and more.
The FirstLook is easy to operate and provides actionable intelligence to determine the best possible courses of action in the safest possible way for our SOF. It can be used in conjunction with other robots of the same ilk or others to ease the way to safeguard personnel.
Photos: Endeavor Robotics, SOFREP