Developing Ruggedized, Autonomous Vehicles for Outdoor Operations – An Interview With Geoff Howe, SVP of Howe & Howe


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Howe & Howe LogoGeoff Howe is Senior Vice President of Howe & Howe (a subsidiary of Textron Techniques), a producer of superior robotic platforms and purposes constructed and confirmed for probably the most excessive circumstances on the earth. Geoff Howe, alongside along with his brother Michael Howe, based Howe & Howe Applied sciences in 2001. The corporate was acquired by Textron Techniques in 2018.

The corporate’s robotics portfolio consists of the RIPSAW, a robotic fight automobile, and Thermite, an unmanned floor automobile (UGV) that was the USA’s first firefighting UGV. The corporate additionally produces the Huge Canine, an off-road truck and in addition serves as an all-terrain multi-use firetruck

Geoff Howe was not too long ago interviewed by Joanne Pransky for Industrial Robotic. That interview is reprinted beneath, with minor modifications. The unique interview may be discovered HERE.

Joanne Pransky: How did you first conceive of the world’s first firefighting unmanned floor automobile? Are you able to clarify its technological and industrial journey?

Geoff Howe

Geoff Howe
Senior Vice President
Howe & Howe Applied sciences

Geoff Howe: We began Howe & Howe in 2001 with the mindset to not solely assist the US army with robotic expertise, however different sectors of the nation and world as nicely. Our first firefighting unmanned floor automobile (UGV) represented an evolution of thought all through the robotics business to find out the place we wished to go and actually help.

The robotic firefighter piggybacked on our different successes and packages which stemmed from our response to the assaults on September 11, 2001. We had designed the RIPSAW for the army and we had additionally invented the SWAT-Bot which was mainly a cellular ballistic protect that protects as much as six SWAT (particular weapons and techniques) officers. In 2008, there was a giant push for us to innovate as greatest as we may in all industries whereas nonetheless sustaining our private and professional constitution which was – and nonetheless is in the present day – that no matter we do needs to be for the betterment of humanity. That actually led us to the dialogue of first responders – cops, firefighters, paramedics, and many others. who put their lives on the road daily – and to the query of, “What are we doing for the firefighters?”

Generally, firefighters produce other duties and security definitions along with standoff with hearth and explosions. There may be lots of bodily labor that goes into being a firefighter. They carry about 50–60 kilos of firefighting gear they usually have a particularly excessive price of again accidents from exerting effort in hauling ladders, hauling heavy hearth hoses and leaping off vans. Due to this fact, we developed the Thermite firefighting robotic expertise as a proof-of-concept again in 2010. At the moment, our enterprise was 70%–80% army; and 20%–30% industrial and industrial.

In 2013, we have been poised to win a extremely massive contract for our Improvised Explosive Gadget (IED) defeat robotic known as the RS1-DR1 Raker (Determine 1). Sadly, sequestration (sequestration refers to computerized spending cuts that happen by means of the withdrawal of funding for sure authorities packages) hit the business and dried up our R&D funding.

RS1-DR1 Raker

Determine 1: Based mostly on the RS‐1 modular platform, the RS1-DR1 Raker is a novel IED defeat robotic developed for the U.S. army.

Fortunately, we had lots of issues that we have been nonetheless engaged on, however I do keep in mind having a dialogue with my brother and associate, Mike, concerning what our future appears to be like like. I stated, “If one thing doesn’t change within the subsequent six months, we’re going underneath with the remainder of them.” We determined that we will’t proceed down the identical highway; we’ve received to get off and onto a unique highway, diversify and leverage what we have now within the army and convey our applied sciences to the industrial sector. However, how can we make that transitional swap with our enterprise mannequin and portfolio? We took a take a look at all of our applied sciences. We had the Ripchair which we may actually begin to evolve a program designed for paralyzed folks within the army, however may be used for anyone with paralysis; quadriplegic, paraplegic, Parkinson’s, and many others.

The opposite choice was the firefighting robotic that we had been concept-proofing for the previous a number of years. The firefighting robotic was definitely wanted on the time (Determine 2).

Howe & Howe Big Dog

Determine 2: Howe and Howe’s Huge Canine is an off-road truck that additionally serves as an all-terrain multi-use firetruck.

We had a big contingency of firefighters in China who wished this firefighting expertise and in 2015, they grew to become our first buyer and ended up utilizing them fairly successfully. I consider that they have been the primary case on the earth that a firefighting robotic was used at an energetic scene. We’re nonetheless delivering to them to today. We have now techniques within the UAE and some different international locations as nicely (Determine three).

What we discovered as pioneers on this new, but particular discipline, was that there have been lots of takeaways to study, perceive and evolve. For instance, whereas lots of different international locations abroad have been very comfy utilizing firefighting robotic expertise and have been buying our models as quick as we may construct them, we had been unsuccessful in breaking into the American market till April 2020, when the Los Angeles Hearth Division (LAFD) grew to become our first home sale. Whether or not they have been motivated by the fires in California or by the dying of fifteen emergency responders who responded to a hearth at a Texas fertilizer firm in 2013 and have been killed in an ammonium nitrate explosion, the US firefighting business was lastly robotic expertise as a strategy to hold their folks secure. The irony is that a few days after the LAFD acquired their first Thermite – earlier than they took full full official supply and have been educated on it – there was a 5 alarm hearth in Los Angeles they usually used the Thermite to assist push particles out of the way in which into the constructing in order that different firefighters may get in and instantly do their jobs (Determine four).

Howe & Howe Figure 3

Determine three: China was the primary on the earth to make use of a firefighting robotic, a Thermite RS1, at an energetic scene.

An enormous vital caveat to robotic firefighters just isn’t changing the firefighter. Despite the fact that we reside and construct these techniques right here within the USA, I feel that a number of the explanation why it’s been tough to convey this robotic expertise to america past some other nation, are attributable to ideas akin to “I don’t need a robotic to exchange my job.” The reality on that is the robotic firefighter is solely a software. It’s a ladder; it’s a hearth truck. It isn’t changing anyone. It’s simply mainly offering standoff and security in order that when a constructing does go up and you should extinguish it, you possibly can ship in that may simply get replaced.

One other tough problem we discovered to beat within the US was that usually, People like to be heroes. That is what America actually is about and once you’re a police officer or a firefighter, there’s a sense of hazard and a way of adrenaline that comes speeding in that defines the job, vs bringing in one thing that may do these harmful jobs for you. It’s completely different in different international locations which mandate their residents to be a firefighter, so that they don’t have a selection of their job. For that particular person, there’s much more sense of welcoming the robotic expertise so that they don’t must put themselves in hurt’s method.

That’s the evolution of our robotic firefighting historical past and the way we received there.

Howe & Howe Figure 4

Determine four: The Los Angeles Hearth Division was the primary within the U.S. to buy a Thermite Robotic Firefighter.

Joanne Pransky: How lengthy does it take to construct a Thermite?

Geoff Howe: We wish to construct what we name soup-to-nuts proper out the door; begin to end. We do 90% of the manufacturing right here at our facility in Waterboro, ME. It normally takes about three months to obtain a Thermite RS1 and about 5 months to obtain the RS3 (Determine 5).

Joanne Pransky: Have you ever been capable of create your machines through the use of current modules developed by third events, or do you discover that your necessities are so specialised it’s important to create every part from scratch?

Geoff Howe: There’s the Thermite RS1 (RS stands for Robotic Resolution) and there’s the RS3. The RS1 was developed again in 2009 with the intent of being fully modular so as an alternative of getting a robotic that does a particular job, it may do a number of duties.

The RS1 is the platform, the bottom that holds all of it. We name that an MMP, which is a “modular mission payload,” derived from army terminology. You possibly can take away the firefighting tools, actually inside 15 or 20 min, and placed on a SWAT-Bot software, so now it’s turned from a firefighter right into a police unit.

In 2010–2011, the RS1 was getting used as an IED defeat robotic with a curler on the entrance. The MMP modular robotic answer turned out to be the quintessential Swiss Military knife of techniques the place you are able to do many various issues and evolve it through the years. For instance, when COVID hit in March 2020, we ended up creating a meting out system for disinfectant on the RS3 base unit because the Thermite firefighter.

It was a really fast and simple swap out from the prevailing ventilator to a chemical meting out system which we examined in our parking heaps and different massive areas. That changed robotic firefighting based mostly system was designed, developed and fabricated in lower than three weeks. In lower than 90 s, we had our complete car parking zone in entrance of our facility decontaminated with disinfectant. That’s the kind of ahead considering that we’re attempting to do right here.

Determine 5: The Thermite RS3 has an output of two,500 gallons per minute.

Joanne Pransky: Is any of your expertise patented?

Geoff Howe: Previous to being acquired by Textron Techniques in 2018, Howe & Howe had patented varied applied sciences. Since that acquisition, we have now continued to develop and file for patents on our applied sciences. The acquisition by Textron Techniques was vital as a result of they’d the unmanned air and sea video games, they usually wished the unmanned floor sport as nicely. Our expertise stuffed that hole for them very simply in a brief time period and we now present floor options to Textron Techniques for his or her army packages in addition to firefighting options to municipal and industrial organizations.

Our robotic firefighting expertise is rarely standing nonetheless. Each day, we’re at all times making enhancements, changes, new designs, new MMPs and new management processes as nicely, to offer us the sting over the competitors. We’re at all times transferring ahead in technology.

Joanne Pransky: How does the Thermite evaluate to the opposite commercialized robotic firefighters?

Geoff Howe: I consider that we’re the one ones constructing robotic firefighting robots of this measurement within the USA. It’s a brand-new market that actually we created and different rivals at the moment are coming in.

What we attempt to do right here is stand in entrance. We’ve been doing this for a very long time. We’ve been driving human components for MMPs and making human interplay as simple and best as attainable for a few years. We wish to assume our system is the perfect out there, which is clearly a private opinion and one which we hope our prospects share.

Joanne Pransky: Any plans to extend the Thermite’s autonomy or are there some other new merchandise within the works?

Geoff Howe: Our robotic firefighting expertise is rarely standing nonetheless. Each day, we’re at all times making enhancements, changes, new designs, new MMPs and new management processes as nicely, to offer us the sting over the competitors. We’re at all times transferring ahead in expertise. We see autonomy in all of our robotic techniques sooner or later; it will not be subsequent 12 months, however definitely within the years to come back. That’s the logical subsequent step to take and to do it safely.

Joanne Pransky: What’s your all-time favourite Howe and Howe robotic?

Geoff Howe: It’s in all probability going to be the Ripchair. It’s not a robotic, however the Ripchair is a design we have now that will get people who find themselves paralyzed outdoor doing issues they by no means thought they might have the ability to do once more. When one experiences that first-hand, the enjoyment is so infectious. It’s one thing that’s very particular certainly and close to and expensive to my coronary heart.

My favourite achievement is the staff of women and men that I’ve assembled previously 20 years.

Joanne Pransky: What’s your proudest second?

Geoff Howe: My favourite achievement is the staff of women and men that I’ve assembled previously 20 years. It is extremely tough to assemble a staff like this wherever and discovering the precise folks that work collectively and work so onerous is my best achievement. I’m nonetheless actually happy with our workforce and their dedication.

Joanne Pransky: What was your motivation for doing the invention channel present?

Geoff Howe: The Discovery Channel program, entitled Black Ops Brothers: Howe and Howe Tech, was an thrilling time. That’s when US actuality exhibits have been massive. We have been breaking viewing viewers information initially however it was a really fast-paced operation with 14–18 h nonstop days throughout the capturing schedule. There was an excessive amount of innovation happening and we have been simply having lots of enjoyable on the time. Being within the public eye additionally didn’t harm; the publicity solely helps one’s trigger or product.

Joanne Pransky: What do you assume engineering college students ought to be doing whereas at school to greatest put together them for the industrial facet of robotics?

Geoff Howe: I might say the perfect factor that they may do is to do one thing hands-on akin to tearing down a four-wheeler and turning it right into a race automotive, and many others. Our engineers are at all times palms on – after all they sit at their desks to do their CAD designs, however there’s additionally a portion of their time that they’re on the ground working with the fabric specialists, the fabricators and the assemblers.

The primary query I ask a potential worker within the interview is: “What are your particular tasks? What are your hobbies”? I like to listen to that their expertise is because of having labored on their very own tasks. It’s vital to know what that edge is that you’ve got on others, as a result of there are folks that undergo and get their masters and PhDs and others that study the identical factor with relevant experiences in their very own packages and tasks. Expertise is actually an vital factor that we search for right here.

Joanne Pransky has been an Affiliate Editor for Industrial Robotic Journal since 1995. She was additionally one of many co- founders and the Director of Advertising and marketing of the world’s first medical robotics journal, The Worldwide Journal of Medical Robotics and Pc Assisted Surgical procedure. Pransky additionally served because the Senior Gross sales and Advertising and marketing Govt for Sankyo Robotics, a producer of commercial robotic techniques. She has consulted for a number of the business’s high robotic and leisure organizations, together with Robotic Industries Affiliation, Motoman, Stäubli, KUKA Robotics, ST Robotics, DreamWorks, Warner Bros., and for Summit Leisure’s film Ender’s Recreation, wherein she introduced never-seen-before medical robots to the massive display screen. She may be contacted at joannepransky[@]gmail.com.



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