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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 February, 2004, 19:45 GMT
Bomb disposal robot unveiled
Paul Adams
By Paul Adams
BBC Defence Correspondent

Two children are killed in Baghdad when an improvised explosive device detonates in their playground. A bomb disposal team sent to investigate finds and defuses a second bomb.

Another roadside bomb explodes in the capital, killing no-one and causing little damage.

Such events are sadly commonplace in Iraq, a constant headache for coalition troops and local policemen alike.

Bomb disposal robot
Carver, currently at prototype stage, could enter service by 2006
When they can, British and American troops use bomb disposal robots to investigate and disarm explosive devices.

Iraq's small, poorly-equipped bomb disposal squad does not have such luxuries and does all of its work the dangerous way - by hand.

Next generation

In the UK, robots have been a regular sight on city streets, particularly in Northern Ireland, since the 1970s.

The sectarian conflict in the province has driven the pace of technological development, with 10 versions of the robot known as Wheelbarrow being introduced since 1972.

Superficially similar to its predecessor, it is much more versatile - able, to borrow a phrase, to reach parts which other robots cannot reach
Wheelbarrow has seen plenty of active duty. In 2001, one was blown across a West London street when the BBC was targeted by Irish terrorists.

The tracked robot is still being used by British bomb disposal teams in southern Iraq.

But with three decades of service, Wheelbarrow is reaching the end of its useful life and will soon be replaced.

At the MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the next generation of robot was unveiled to journalists on Tuesday.

"Carver" is a prototype, designed and developed by the privatised defence research group QinetiQ, which should enter service by 2006-7.

Superficially similar to its predecessor, it is much more versatile - able, to borrow a phrase, to reach parts which other robots cannot reach.

'Greater safety'

Mark Ruglys, the DSTL project manager, says the new system is much safer to use.

"It allows the separation of the bomb disposal operator from the target device for longer, and thus provides a much greater margin of operator safety", he said.

Where Wheelbarrow was merely able to stretch an arm forward, Carver has borrowed technology from the commercial robotics world, resulting in impressive flexibility and an ability to carry out intricate movements.

A steel claw with three independently operable digits can open a car door and pick up and remove objects from inside.

And Carver can carry a number of attachments on its chassis, switching from one to another without returning to its operator.

When time is of the essence and a bomb may be about to explode, it is another key improvement.

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