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SAPPERS could soon
remotely touch, feel and
disarm explosives in
3D thanks to new bomb
disposal technology developed
by Deakin University and the
Counter IED Task Force.
Dubbed OzArm, the device has
more than 30 sensors to give the
operator remote tactile feedback.
It allows users to "feel" the items
they pick up with the robot arm.
When the sensors on the two-
fingered arm come into contact
with something, signals are sent
back to small motors in the control
"glove" that apply different lev-
els of force against the operator's
Dr James Mullins, a sen-
ior research fellow at Deakin
University who has worked on the
project since it began in 2006, said
the OzArm was capable of rapid
movements, unlike traditional
bomb disposal arms.
"If you picked up a full plastic
shopping bag and it started swing-
ing, you'd feel it moving and you
can quickly adjust it so it stops
moving," he said.
But the controls were also capa-
ble of scaled movement, with the
operator's thumb and forefinger
controlling the robot's pincer fin-
ger, according to Dr Mullins.
"You can set it so you'll move
your hand 10cm and the robot arm
will move 1mm," he said.
The system is designed to
bolt on to existing bomb disposal
robots, both military and police,
while a pair of cameras gives the
operator a three-dimensional view
of the suspect package or IED.
The team from Deakin
University has already designed the
control platform to fit into the back
of a Bushmaster, but the operator
won't be wearing any dorky cin-
ema-style 3D glasses to get depth
"They use 3D ballistic sun-
glasses if they're using a flat panel
monitor in the vehicle," he said.
Groundbreaking new technology allows bomb disposal
robot operators to "feel" objects being manipulated by
the robot arm, Cpl Max Bree reports.
"Or you could wear a head-
mounted display where you see
individual pictures mounted in
front of each eye."
When an earlier version of the
OzArm was tested at Woomera in
2011, OC 20 EOD Sqn Maj Rob
Bailey said the technology could
allow the robotic part of IED dis-
posals to be conducted with greater
The control feedback and 3D
vision let operators work fast-
er, rather than using incremen-
tal movements watched on a 2D
"The greater fidelity on the new
system means that I can do more
with the robot," Maj Bailey said.
"This means I can apply the
robot more and reduce the amount
of times that I need to do a manual
Maj Bailey could see uses for
the technology beyond IED dis-
"If we've got that greater fidel-
ity we could potentially apply it to
conventional ordnance disposal,"
"You could use it in for deal-
ing with chemical, biological and
radiological threats; you could stop
or potentially reduce the amount of
time people would be exposed to
The OzArm could be scaled-
up to give the Army's new Buffalo
vehicle operators more "hands-on"
control of the vehicle's giant probe
arm, according to Dr Mullins.
"Theoretically, the technology
is scalable to that kind of scale,"
he said. "You could be picking up
big clumps of dirt and feeling how
hard you're pulling and feel what
you're picking up."
Dr Mullins said the improved
technology could lead to new pro-
cedures and gather valuable intel-
ligence especially needed in urban
"It could lead to a change in
doctrine," he said. "Without the
necessity of blowing an IED in
place you could get some forensic
data out of the device.
"It would be much easier to ren-
der it safe, then you could pull it
apart and figure out what makes it
"At this stage it's ready to be
operationally tested. If someone
pushed the button and said 'we
want it in theatre', in a couple of
months it could be."
Further development of the
technology would also lead to the
cost coming down, according to Dr
"The trick is developing the
system so it's cost effective," he
"Making it so when something
does go bang, it's not going to cost
you exorbitant amounts of money
to get it back on the road again."
Touching technology: Members of Deakin University's Centre for Intelligent
Systems Research demonstrate the OzArm in action.
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