Monday, August 08, 2011

Robots for Laos? UXO and US EOD Technology

One of the critical challenges for Laos is the removal of UXO which contaminates over 30% of the Lao countryside.

Without addressing this it becomes difficult to address the effects of chemical defoliants or many of the other social and economic challenges for fostering long-term growth, prosperity and interaction with the global community.

The Mines Advisory Group and others working closely with UXO removal teams still need significant funding and support. Official estimates suggest that it will take at least $100 million dollars at the current rate of clearance to effectively remove all of the leftover munitions in Laos by 2020, or 9 years from now.
This remains extremely dangerous work under the best of circumstances. Removal of bombs in Southeast Asia has many other hazards that would greatly benefit from having access to effective high-quality equipment that can also meet the challenging environmental conditions.

A case in point would be something such as a TALON robot which is used for many purposes including Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).
Unfortunately, a low-end robot costs $15,000.00 or approximately 120,300,000 kip and can run as high as $18,000 or more, although they are very rugged. This video is one of many that demonstrates a TALON at work: 
Key challenges for introducing more robots to Laos besides the cost would be access to electricity in some areas, and the ability to clear the treads out of the muck especially during the rainy season.  But could it enhance survivability and expected lifespans for our current and emerging Lao EOD teams?

I think it's worth at least a trial investment. I would further encourage the development of more affordable robots that are easier to repair or replace in the event of accidents.

There are other robot models out there, but in any decision we need to consider the need for large quantities and ease of deployment and the consistent high risk of catastrophic damage due to ordnance detonation, robots such as the REMOTEC ANDROS, or the $25,000 MATILDA by Mesa Robotics:

We could consider the Packbot by iRobot, below, although they appear to run around $115,000 each. Ouch. A more outdated Marcbot costs around $8,000. Could a more effective, affordable device be developed that can meet the needs and conditions of Southeast Asia?
It can't all be solved by robots, however. There's still so much need for adequate levels of funding to support humans and effective equipment on the ground for identifying and removing these hazards.

Hopefully we can begin to gain support introducing safer and more expedient ways to clear the legacies of our wars from the last century so we can build a more peaceful legacy together in the years ahead.

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