Can game console technology find roadside bombs?

Developer aims to have a working prototype by 2009

While it can already be found in some of the most popular handheld devices and video game consoles, Canada-based Quanser Consulting hopes to take haptic technology -- which merges tactile sensation and control to interaction with computer applications -- to uncharted terrain with a tour of duty in the Canadian military.

With financial support from the National Research Council Canada, Quanser has begun developing a prototype technology for use in a fully-haptic controlled Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV). These remotely controlled vehicles are often used by the military to detect and eliminate Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) hidden across unexplored land.

Paul Gilbert, CEO at Quanser, said implementing haptic control into the UGVs sensors will allow users to "feel" what's happening to their remote unit, giving them a better sense of how to navigate difficult terrain. UGVs in the field today, he said, have to travel at slow speeds and can sometimes accidentally flip-over when attempting to navigate bumpy roads. "

"If you were driving down the street and weren't able to feel the road, you're probably not going to notice that you're going over bumps and potholes until it's too late," Gilbert said. "In an ATV, you would be bouncing around and become unstable. With the UGVs today, there might be some visual cues or video coming back, but they're not going to get any sense of what the road surface is through the joysticks they use."

But it might not be long before these older UGV units are a thing of the past. According to a spokesperson with Canada's Armed Forces, any technology that can improve the speed and functionality of its current UGVs will be something to consider for the future.

"Traditionally in warfare, one of the purposes in creating an obstacle on the road is to stop a convoy, so speed matters in the resolution of these obstacles," Captain Bob Kennedy, public affairs officer with the 32 Canadian Brigade Group, said. "Certainly more information arriving in the hands of the people trying to deal with the obstacle ahead is a good thing."

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Rafael Ruffolo

ComputerWorld Canada
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