One of the most dangerous jobs in a combat situation is the extraction and evacuation of a wounded soldier while still under fire. This is especially true in the current war against terrorism, which features enemies that are not likely to respect the noncombatant status of medics.
A company called VECNA Robotics believes that it has come up with a solution. The company proposes to build, for the United States Army, the Battlefield Extraction and Retrieval Robot (BEAR), which will take over the job of evacuating wounded soldiers from a combat zone. The VECNA Robotics BEAR project has won key seed funding in the form of a grant from the US Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC), a part of the US Army Medical Research and Material Command (USAMRMC).
The BEAR robot would have three main elements. It would have a hydraulic upper body, with “arms” and a “head”, a mobile platform, and dynamic balancing behavior software and hardware. The latter would partly consist of two independently tracked “legs” which will allow the BEAR robot to balance itself in a variety of positions and to move over difficult terrain. The BEAR robot looks remarkably humanoid.
A prototype model of the BEAR robot has already been built and tested. It has proven the ability to pick up a fully weighted human dummy and carry it while in the upright position without break for fifty minutes.
The production model of the BEAR robot will be capable of carrying a human or other payload up to five hundred pounds over a distance and safely deposit it as directed by a remote operator. The BEAR will initially be operated remotely, but will eventually have autonomous behavior software that will allow it to be controlled more easily.
Of course, the applications of a BEAR robot would go beyond extracting wounded soldiers from the battlefield. It can perform other kinds of rescue, from a burning or a structurally compromised building, a nuclear reactor that has gone critical, or any other hazardous situation where it might not be prudent to send in a human medic.
Another application of the BEAR robot would involve the care of the mobility impaired. The SCI-BEAR robot could be used in hospitals and nursing homes to help people with conditions like spinal cord injuries. People with spinal cord injuries (SCI) need to be repositioned on their beds at least once every two hours, least they develop ulcerated bed sores. Such patients also need help transitioning from bed to a wheel chair and help with such tasks as using the bathroom. A SCI-BEAR robot would relieve nursing staff from performing these tasks, freeing them for other duties and saving them from back strain.
The HomeBEAR robot could perform the same task for the mobility impaired who live at home. The HomeBear could be a domestic assistant to help with Activities of Daily Living (help walking, getting in and out of bed, chairs, bathtub, shower, cars; help getting dressed, and other activities) for the disabled and the frail elderly, helping to keep these large demographic populations living independently with affordable costs. The HomeBear robot could also be personal rescue assistant able to interact with users, detect unusual behavior and notify appropriate parties (family members, emergency paramedics, etc.) when an emergency, such as a fall, takes place. Finally the HomeBEAR robot can be a nursing and healthcare assistant to help patients make key ADL-type transfers.