Marshall and Robots

HDT Global got its start in robotics the hard way, by working for the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab on DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program to develop a prosthetic arm with near-human capabilities. DARPA projects are often described as “DARPA hard”, and this nine year effort has been one of the toughest projects that HDT has ever worked on.

The Revolutionizing Prosthetics program was started in response to rising numbers of US service members with upper-limb amputations resulting from injuries sustained in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the civilian population of lower-limb amputees is large enough to drive development of sophisticated prosthetic legs, the much smaller number of upper-limb amputees means that commercial investment in prosthetic arms has lagged. The technical challenge of creating prosthetic arms that replace any meaningful fraction of the capability of a human arm is huge, which has also limited the availability of effective prosthetic arms. The end result of this is that injured service members with many years of productive life remaining do not have access to arms that really work.

mk2-300x269Through the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, DARPA has invested over $120 million in an effort to create sophisticated prosthetic arm technology. The bulk of this funding has gone to research and development for neural interfaces that allow a human to use the capabilities of the arms developed on the program. HDT’s role has been to develop the prosthetic arms themselves; focusing on the goal of developing arms that have the same size, weight, strength, and dexterity as a human arm.

The neural interfaces and prosthetic arms have been developed and are in clinical trials. The challenge now is to commercialize the technology that has been developed, and HDT is working to meet this challenge.

The improvised explosive devices (IED’s) that maim US service members are the focus of another HDT effort, which is to provide robotic arms that can disable IED’s without putting humans in harm’s way. Based on technology originally developed under the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, HDT has developed new robotic arm technology that allows remote projection of human levels of dexterity. HDT’s Adroit® manipulator arms have been selected by Northrop Grumman and the US Navy for use on the US military’s next-generation explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) robot under the Advanced EOD Robotic System (AEODRS) program. Delivery of AEODRS robots will begin in 2017.

The direct integration of humans and robotic assistive devices and robots that can replace humans in dangerous environments are both nearing reality now. HDT will continue to develop cutting-edge technology that ensures this reality happens.

NOTE: Dr. Tom Van Doren gave a talk to Foundation members and visitor on Wednesday, November 18th in the Pogue Auditorium. You can listen to his presentation below.

This Week’s Guest Blogger: Dr. Tom Van Doren

vandorenthumb Dr. Tom Van Doren is Vice President for Engineering for HDT Global. Tom earned a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas, a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Oklahoma State University. HDT Global is widely recognized for its industry-leading production of state-of-the-art, fully integrated deployable solutions, including robotics and other engineered technologies, currently used by U.S. and allied military units worldwide.