A Philippine Navy reserve officer and former dean of the Mapua Institute of Technology’s School of Mechanical Engineering has led an R & D team in that school in developing an affordable robot to defuse and remove bombs planted by terrorists; its first commercially produced model is set for delivery soon to the Philippine National Police’s (PNP’s) Makati City unit.
In an exclusive interview, Roel John Judilla told Tech Times that among the robot’s talking points is that it is sufficiently high tech for Philippine security needs. At the same time, it has been fabricated from materials readily available “off-the-shelf” in the country.
He pointed out that as an example, the robot’s electronic components had been purchased mostly from shops in Manila’s Raon street, regarded since the 1950s as a shopper’s paradise for Filipino electronics enthusiasts.
Judilla, a lieutenant in the Philippine Navy active reserve, said inspiration for the robot’s development came from his having regularly watched television news scenes of PNP bomb disposal experts manually handling packages suspected to contain bombs planted by terrorists. As a concerned citizen, he decided to apply his engineering knowledge and skills to help the police and military neutralize explosives without endangering their and other people’s lives.
The 34-year-old Judilla, director of Mapua’s alumni liaison office, has already led R & D teams that developed two remote controlled devices to enable the Philippine Navy to upgrade part of its existing weaponry within its limited budget. These are the Trident Strike and the Spearhead.
The first is a remote control firing platform for up to four caliber 50 machine guns mounted on Philippine Navy vessels. The second is a remote controlled and mobile firing platform for M60 machine guns, primarily for service in the Philippine Marine Corps.
Judilla said the bomb disposal robot the Makati City government had purchased for the PNP cost P200,000. Should it be manufactured in the future in larger production lots, its price per unit would be lower.
In contrast, ultra-sophisticated bomb disposal robots the US military has deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have per unit costs ranging from $10,000 to $150,000.
Judilla said the robot has been designed to handle both military grade and improvised explosive devices weighing up to five kilograms. It can also do mobile reconnoitering of the area it has been tasked to secure.
The robot’s main parts consist of a gripper, gripper camera, pivot boom, infrared camera, rubber tires, and electronics control board. The electronic system had been developed by Mapua electronics and communications engineering majors.
Software for the control board had also been written by these undergraduate students. The language used was Visual C ++, an Open Source developer platform downloadable from the Internet.
Its dimensions are 3 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet. When delivered to buyers, it shall be encased for aesthetic purposes and will resemble in appearance a miniature main battle tank.
Its operator shall manipulate the robot from a remote console and view images from a 10-inch LCD screen. A 150-feet long cable shall link the robot to the control box.
Judilla said upgrades could enable the robot to be controlled via wireless. Its sensors could also be upgraded to deliver images with higher resolutions. But these would also require increases in per unit costs.
The patent filed with the Philippine Patent Office is in Judilla’s name. But because the robot had been developed and produced in Mapua’s laboratories and with the help of its students, royalty sharing agreements have been entered into with the school and other R & D team members.
A prototype of the robot had been developed mid-2007. September that same year, it exhibited at the Industrial Invention Contest in Taipei, Taiwan.
Judilla said motivation for developing national security-related devices comes from his sense of gratitude to the Philippine government. This is because in the late 1990s, the Department of Science and Technology granted him a scholarship enabling him to acquire a master’s degree in engineering at Mapua. He hope to acquire a doctorate from abroad in the near future.
He agreed with Tech Times’ observation that the devices he developed could be exported to countries friendly with the Philippines and whose defense and law enforcement budgets are also limited. He added he was open to the possibility of these devices being manufactured abroad under licensing agreements. –Ike Suarez, from The Manila Times