Fighting roadside IED's with remote control cars

Washington Post:

Robert Pervere's fight against insurgents in Iraq started with an Emaxx monster truck from Debbie's RC World Inc. in Chesapeake, Va., a $335 toy that he turned into a weapon for U.S. troops against roadside bombs. The 24-year-old engineer replaced about 80 percent of the toy's plastic parts with aluminum, fastened two small surveillance cameras to the top and made room for an explosive that could blow up suspicious objects from hundreds of feet away.

"I get paid to play with [radio control] cars," said Pervere, who helped build the prototype for Applied Marine Technology Inc., a Virginia-based defense contractor that has said it expects to begin receiving military orders in September. "This has been a very rewarding project, working on a tool that's going to be out the door saving lives shortly."

...

Lockheed Martin Corp. has established a corporate team with $22 million in internal funding, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post, that is looking for "best of breed" technology, including ways to study attack patterns. International Business Machines Corp. has a system it says will create a digital image of often-traveled roads and alert soldiers to changes that could indicate bombs hidden in trash, rocks or animal carcasses.

General Dynamics Corp. is pitching a laser-based system adapted from Israeli technology that it says could burn away trash often used to conceal bombs and disable the devices. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is studying whether there is a way to sniff out bombs with electronic polymers that mimic a dog's ability to smell. Octatron Inc. of St. Petersburg, Fla., is touting a low-tech approach: -- a 14-foot, 5-pound high-strength pole that the company says soldiers can use to place explosives next to suspected bombs from a distance.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has a toy car of its own. After hearing complaints from soldiers that robots operated by wireless controllers were unreliable and subject to radio interference, Livermore came up with one attached to a 1,000-foot tether.

"This may not be super-high science, but it seems to be useful," Milton Finger, a senior scientist at Livermore, said of the lab's $200,000 research project. "It sounds trite that we're using toys, but it's more than that."

...

Finding the bomb makers is probably the most effective way of stopping the IED problem. Aggressively going after the source of the bombs is the way to reduce the effectiveness of the weapons since replacement builders tend to be less skilled and more likely to make a mistake. But, you do have to use all resources to solve the problem and a trooper with sharp eyes for the unusualy is probably our most effective weapon in the field.

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