They Only Get One Shot

Troops on patrol seeking out insurgents hiding in hostile towns and cities soon may have a new weapon in their arsenal although this one is more like a hunting dog that points once it has discovered the prey. Not a canine, this weapon is a small robot weighing less than 4.5 lb that can quickly and accurately pinpoint enemy gunfire in virtually any combat environment.

As reported in a recent article by Kevin Bullis in MIT's Technology Review, REDOWL, or Robot Enhanced Detection Outpost With Lasers, is a robotic system of optics and acoustics sensors that can identify and locate the position of a sniper after just one shot has been fired. In an ongoing development program led by The Photonics Center at Boston University along with BioMimetic Systems, iRobot, and Insight Technology, REDOWL will give troops in combat situations the ability to accurately determine the position of the shooter and return fire rapidly.

Mounted on a robot manufactured by iRobot that has been successfully deployed in combat situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, REDOWL will help troops eliminate second-guessing a sniper's location, especially in urban settings. When a shot is fired in a congested area of several buildings, the sound bounces off the structures, making it difficult to quickly determine the shooter's exact position. After detecting the first shot, REDOWL with its Acoustic Direction Finding (ADF) system will point its laser at the offender, enabling the troops to retaliate.

The ADF, which functions as the head of REDOWL, is the product of BioMimetic Systems and professors at BU and based on our biological hearing system. Taking into account the complex components of the entire auditory system including the ears, ear canals, middle-ear bones, and eardrums, the scientists first constructed a mechanical model that replicates our hearing process of transforming pressure waves into neural signals. The model then was outfitted with neural signal electronics that mimic nerve-cell responses when exposed to sounds.

For urban situations, echo-canceling technology was incorporated that recognizes the initial shock wave as the source of the sound and discards all aftershocks or echoes. The initial wave and echoes are stored in system memory to enable gunshot sound printing that can identify the type of weapon fired such as an AK-47 or an M-16.

REDOWL mounted on a robot was tested recently during a field trial at an army rifle range. More than 150 rounds were fired from a variety of weapons from a distance of 100 meters. The system successfully located the source of gunfire 94% of the time.

Other capabilities of REDOWL include early warning, surveillance, and targeting, making it ideal for night surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Additionally, REDOWL can provide perimeter protection when troops are deployed in the field for an extended period of time.

You might wonder if an insurgent, upon seeing the robot, would try to destroy it. As noted in the article, a single direct hit probably would not disable it, and worse yet, a miss would instantly be detected followed by a laser beam in the face of the sniper. New weapons, like REDOWL, demonstrate how technology combined with biology can help protect our troops in hostile environments.

Paul Milo
Editorial Director
[email protected]

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