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AUVSI: $1M grand prize awarded in robotic range clearing competition

A multicompany collaborative team took home the Robotic Range Clearance Competition's $1 million grand prize given out Wednesday by the Joint Robotics Ground Enterprise at AUVSI's 2011 unmanned systems conference.

An approximately 30-person team comprised of Kairos Autonomi, Autonomous Solutions, Zonge International, SAIC, VKR, WM Robots and John Deere claimed top honors at the competition, an optional prize won by surpassing a certain grading level by the judges.

"We really like getting in the dirt and working hard and having a good time," said Mel Torrie, of Autonomous Solutions, after the win. "We had some great help from engineers. It was great to partner with some people that had the same goals and had that don't-quit attitude."

Three teams competed after a whittle-down process by the JGRE, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Air Force Research Lab in the categories of vegetation removal, geophysical mapping, surface clearance and subsurface clearance.

The overall winners, called Team UXOD, took first place in only the geophysical mapping portion, but its high overall score put them over the edge to claim ultimate victory.

Team D4C, comprised of ECC, QinetiQ North America and Bobcat, won the vegetation clearance and surface clearance categories. No team won enough points to win the subsurface competition.

 The winners check out their robotic range clearance prizes
 ©2011 BillyPix
The winners check out their robotic range clearance prizes

Approximately 25 percent of the competition was performed autonomously for a task that the Army Corps of Engineers estimates could save $3-4 million annually in Army unexploded ordnance removal, a task currently performed manually.

"Even a little bit of autonomy can really pay off for the Army and for the military," said Jim Overholt, chief roboticist for the Army, who gave away the geophysical mapping prize. Each category win was worth $250,000.

Michael Toscano, president and CEO of AUVSI and Joint Robotics Program manager from 1990-2003, said of the technological accomplishment, "If we don't field we fail, and it warms my heart to see something like this. It's not just for the military it's for the civil and commercial [markets]."

The Army Corps is planning a $40 million indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract follow-on and has released a Request For Information.