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RE2 Robotics, a 2021 RBR50 Innovation Award winner based in Pittsburgh, is developing an autonomous refueling system for AH-64 Apache helicopters deployed by the U.S. Army. RE2 received $1 million in funding for the project, which is called Remote Robotic Refueling for Extended Missions (R3EM)
R3EM will use RE2’s proprietary perception software to control a dexterous RE2 robotic arm mounted onto an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV). The UGV will autonomously position and engage a fuel nozzle in the helicopter’s fuel port.
The helicopter refueling system uses multiple perception sensors that provide 3D situational awareness, allowing the robot to operate in an unstructured, outdoor environment. The system will automatically detect when fueling is complete and disconnect the fuel nozzle from the aircraft. RE2 partnered with Pratt Miller, which is supplying its TMT-I rugged mobile base for the system.
“The R3EM program enables RE2 to apply its next-generation autonomy software and history of robotic arm expertise to a new outdoor application within the Department of Defense,” said Jorgen Pedersen, president and CEO of RE2 Robotics. “The technology being developed as a result of this aircraft servicing program strategically aligns with our ongoing expansion into the commercial aviation market.”
RE2 recently commemorated its 20th year in business with the launch of its Sapien 6M robotic arm. The milestone marks two successful decades of innovation and growth for the company in the robotics industry.
“Upon a pilot’s command, this system will quickly and efficiently remove a fuel line from a stored location, engage the fuel line with the Apache helicopter, and then move it back into a stowed position, completely autonomously,” said Dr. Amanda Sgroi, director of computer vision and autonomy, RE2 Robotics. “Because the system is unmanned, it will enable troops to extend the range of their missions while eliminating the need for soldiers to remain isolated at refueling stations, further reducing the size of a mission’s logistical footprint.”
Pedersen recently joined The Robot Report Podcast to discuss the evolution of the company. RE2 was focused nearly 100% on defense work in 2016, but now the defense sector accounts for less than one-third of its business. So the R3EM project seemingly is right up RE2’s alley. We also discussed on the podcast RE2’s new Sapien line of intelligent robotic arms. The arms, which were originally engineered for the rugged requirements of the U.S. military, can operate in both structured and unstructured environments. You can listen to that podcast below.
Boulder, Colo.-based Stratom also develops robotic refueling systems for the military. Over the past few years, Stratom has developed an autonomous ground vehicle refueling prototype and an autonomous and remote refueling point system.