Home' Army Acquisition Logistics and Technology Magazine : Army ALT January-March 2018 Contents THE ORIGIN STORY
In 2005, I was attending a meeting at
TARDEC [the U.S. Army Tank Auto-
motive Research, Development and
Engineering Center] where TARDEC per-
sonnel demonstrated ODIS, a low-profle
robotic system. About a month earlier, I
had visited the Army[-established] Insti-
tute for Soldier Nanotechnologies [at
the Massachusetts Institute of Tech-
nology] to discover they had taken the
Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency's Dog's Nose Program to an
operational device, Fido. At the time, it
was the world's most sensitive explosive
Because ODIS had a mast that retracted
into the robot, a NASA technology, I
began to think of putting Fido on the
mast and using it to remotely sniff inside
a vehicle for explosives, rather than hav-
ing a Soldier exposed to an IED. The
idea began to come together where we
could put Fido and a state-of-the-art
camera on a robotic system, so if a Sol-
dier had a wearable vest with a display,
the Soldier could see what the robot was
seeing, and at the same time see an
indicator showing whether an explosive
is present. [It also had] a joystick used to
maneuver the robot to a position where
it could sniff something suspicious. The
world’s frst robotic dog that could see
and sniff and could be remotely con-
trolled---that was the concept.
BUT DOES SOMEONE NEED IT?
So then I needed to fnd a mission needs
statement, where an Army school iden-
tifed a need for this. It turned out that
Fort Leonard Wood was the place where
a need existed. George Anderson was a
civilian working there. I connected with
him, and he managed to fnd a mission
needs statement calling for a platform
that could inspect underneath a vehicle.
I asked the proponents of the mission
needs statement: "If we gave you much
more than that, would you be happy?"
They said they would.
If it weren't for George Anderson, we
wouldn't have succeeded: He had to
make a case for this solution with a cul-
ture that opposed using robotic systems.
He demonstrated the kind of courage
and persistence you need to accomplish
something like this. We assembled the
most dedicated, capable team of people
I've ever worked with, to work on all
aspects of this.
However, we had to do some home-
work: What specifc platform would we
use? We needed something low-profle
that could go under a vehicle. TARDEC's
ODIS was one, iRobot had PackBot [and]
Foster-Miller had a candidate robotic
platform. I called a meeting among all of
those in the Pentagon that touched on
this issue: the OSD [Offce of the Secre-
tary of Defense] Robotics Offce, TSWG
[the Technical Support Working Group],
Night Vision Laboratory, the Joint Robot-
ics Offce at Redstone Arsenal, TARDEC,
Army Research Laboratory, etc. I told
them we were going to do the fastest
acquisition in history. Urgency was the
motivation. We wanted to get something
out that would save Soldier lives.
We didn't follow a standard acquisition
process. We created a single sheet of
paper that had the selection criteria on
it: low profle, ability to have an articu-
lated arm, to reach high up (at least 6
feet), technical readiness level, etc., and
also pan and tilt to look inside the cab or
the trunk of a suspect vehicle. I arranged
for three contractors to come in to HQ.
Each one had half an hour to make a
presentation on how they could fulfll
the requirements. In two hours we did
source selection. PackBot was the best
choice, according to the team vote, and
the most mature of all the technologies.
There were cheaper platforms, but they
weren't operationally proven; PackBot
was. That led to Fido/PackBot.
Then we had to estimate what it would
cost to put together and how long it
would take to complete the prototype. As
Army director for research and laboratory
management, I knew my labs well, and I
knew Redstone and AMRDEC [the U.S.
Air and Missile Research, Development
and Engineering Center] had a well-
established prototype integration facility.
I contacted a very capable guy there
by the name of Bill Schultz and said, "I
want to prove to people that something
like this can be done in record time." I
wanted to produce a full prototype, test
it and have training manuals in 90 days.
I told Bill to analyze this, talk to contrac-
tors, convince himself and then convince
me and the people in my offce that this
could be done: "If there's too much risk,
we'll change the schedule, but I want
you to spend some time thinking about
it. A week later he said, “I frmly believe
we can do this."
Starting from the day we received fund-
ing, we managed to pull this whole thing
off in 90 days. That was a record; I'll bet
it still stands.
FEEDBACK UNDER FIRE
Five units were fully tested. We shipped
four to Camp Victory in Iraq and kept
one in the U.S. for troubleshooting. Sol-
diers started to experiment. There was a
Marine, Col. Ed Ward, whose dedication
to this project was phenomenal. He went
into theater around Thanksgiving. He
was in a vehicle taking a unit for testing
to Abu Ghraib prison and he was send-
ing me emails: “We’re under fre.”
Feedback from in theater was gener-
ally positive in terms of ease of use
and effectiveness. JIEDDO [the Joint
Improvised Explosive Device Defeat
Organization] decided, based on that, to
procure 120 units. Over 200 were even-
tually procured, I believe. In my home I
have a plaque with a part of one of them
that was blown up by an IED, saving a
Soldier's life. It's the most precious and
memorable thing I own.
---DR. JOHN A. PARMENTOLA,
as told to Army AL&T
This interview excerpt has been lightly
edited for clarity and length. The U.S.
Army Materiel Command named Fido/
PackBot—offcially called the Integrated
Robotic Explosive Detection System---
one of the 10 best inventions of 2006.
Find out more at https://www.army.mil/
272 Army AL&T Magazine January - March 2018
HOW MANY ROBOTS DOES IT TAKE?
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