The soldiers’ choice of mobile weapons systems reigns supreme as Foster-Miller, the makers of TALON SWORDS, unveils their newest brainchild of the TALON robotics line. New from the ground up, the TALON MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System) provides a groundbreaking mechanism for the military and civilian market alike.
Using a transformer-like robotics platform, operators can swap multiple accessories and weapons in anticipation of mission demands. The versatility potential of the TALON MAARS is only limited by the imagination because of its capability to “transform” into different configurations.
Built with modular components that are independent of one another, the MAARS is comprised of the center module, left and right mobility drive modules and overhead accessory modules for various implements like the MAARS’s very own manipulator arm, which has a 120-pound lift capability, or a turret-mounted weapon such as the M240B medium machine gun, or a host of sensors.
Special Weapons contacted Foster-Miller’s program manager of Advanced Robots, Charles Dean, a US Army combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, to uncover the inside story of the TALON MAARS.
SW: The MAARS has been dubbed as “transformer-like.” Please explain.
CD: What that means is that the center module of the robot contains the brains and the power of the system. Attached to the center are various types of drive modules as well as accessories like the manipulating arm or chemical-biological sensors.
This center module is the core of the system; whatever is attached defines its mission capability. The drive modules, as an example, can be swapped from the current track system, to wheels, or to longer or wider track systems. The center module can be the heart of medium or large robots alike.
SW: Does it transform on its own?
CD: The MAARS robot is transformed by the operator. The operator simply releases the mechanical components and disconnects power/communication cables to remove these items for maintenance purposes or to reconfigure the system for a new mission. The MAARS system is designed to come apart and to be reassembled in only a few minutes by one person.
SW: What sets the TALON MAARS apart from the current TALON SWORDS?
CD: The MAARS robotics system is a completely different robotic platform than SWORDS. Its all-new configuration is based on customer input from their experience with the TALON family platforms, as well as lessons learned in testing and in combat with SWORDS platforms. Historically, SWORDS is the first robot to carry a weapon in combat and MAARS will be right behind it.
MAARS is a revolutionary transformable robot platform that can be equipped with a variety of weapon combinations as well as other accessories like the high capability arm. MAARS with a weapon mounted can quickly transform into MAARS with a manipulator arm to pull an immobilized soldier out of the enemy’s line of fire.
This transformable design allows the operator to change the accessories based on mission demands. You can employ the mechanical arm to enable combat forces to enter buildings by opening doors or assisting with other means to gain entry. You can use the arm to uncover and destroy enemy Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). You can use the sensors to detect harmful vapors, liquids, or radiation, and you can apply direct fires or indirect fires onto the enemy.
The manipulator arm can be employed to assist in evacuation of injured civilians and soldiers. The MAARS robot is tough and very powerful, and it can move injured soldiers out of exposed locations to safe position for medics to attend to.
SW: How does it operate?
CD: Teleoperations, the user is always in direct control of the robot. The robot does not make independent decisions. There are encrypted radios with highly advanced controls and a whole new controller for this advanced platform.
The all-new controller is a great attribute, allowing operators to establish safety limits on the firing system or observation limits on the cameras. One can easily tell the MAARS system where it can and cannot fire. In a hostile environment, there could be a target area that needs to be engaged and destroyed while adjacent areas are no-fire zones.
One can control that decision, the MAARS is a super capable system that ensures weapons control and safety. The controller also commands the camera to conduct surveillance. You can direct the robot where you want it to go, to look back and forth in both day and night. The operator can now focus on the images from the camera instead of using a joystick.
SW: How durable is it?
CD: It is tough and largely made of aluminum, it is designed to go into cold to hot environments, rugged terrain, up and down stairs and curbs and through water. When it came to MAARS, Foster-Miller started from scratch, focused on needs and lessons learned, and invented a completely new system. It’s readily adaptable to future improvements as needs arise.
SW: How will the MAARS help our troops?
CD: It will allow them to quickly put a sophisticated, fast moving robotic system downrange to provide early warning. It will allow them to control weapon systems remotely and to put a robotic platform in harm’s way instead of humans.
MAARS allows soldiers to know where the robot is with its blue force tracking capability; robots reports in, and back in the operator’s location, they can see where it is when it is no longer visible to the operator. MAARS has a superior overhead view of situational awareness over SWORDS with an advanced camera system to see day and night, indoors and outdoors. MAARS greatly enhances small unit security through weapons, manipulator use or sensor use.
The situational awareness allows operators to know the physical configuration of the robot. The robot can face any direction, the turret can face any direction, the camera can face any direction and all of them can move independently from each other.
The controller gives you a bird’s eye graphical image view of the subsystem. The MAARS robot can drive into a village with the weapon systems positioned fully rearward away from noncombatants and speak to people using the high-powered speaker system—when chaos reigns, MAARS can be heard yet when needed, MAARS can whisper.
We have spent a lot of time developing this new controller so that it can offer advanced features while remaining very user-friendly, a TALON attribute.
SW: In what kind of combat scenarios will the MAARS be employed?
CD: There are so many capabilities and possibilities for MAARS in different kinds of combat. For offensive operations, the MAARS can be used in both urban and rural areas. On the defense, it can support base security, airfield security, defensive security, direct indirect artillery, mortar and aircraft fires, and support humanitarian operations.
The powerful MAARS speaker system can serve as an escort in communicating to non-combatants through the voice of a linguistic expert to guide them to safer areas or to communicate to hostile forces to lay down their arms, to pacify aggressive acts, or to secure an area.
SW: What is the future potential for MAARS?
CD: What’s so exciting about this system is that the future is unlimited. The center module can take us in so many directions and the drive modules propel us there. As the years pass, more and more options for transforming the basic robot into different configurations will further meet various customer needs, both military and non-military.
For more information: Foster-Miller, Inc., 350 Second Ave, Dept GW/LE, Waltham, MA 02451; 781-684-4000; www.foster-miller.com