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Denel Mechem developing new unmanned ground vehicle

A Mechem UGV.Denel Mechem hopes to have its new demining and air sampling unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) fully operational by December this year, adding it to the company’s demining and detection toolkit.

Peter Faro, General Manager of Denel Mechem, told defenceWeb that the main reason the UGV was developed was to make the working environment safer for personnel, whether collecting air samples at areas such as airports and borders posts or detecting mines.

Faro said that development started around a year ago but the idea for the UGV had been floating around for a while – the vehicle draws on experience gained from a collaborative project with the North-West University. Testing of the vehicle continues but Mechem is now looking at a bigger platform that has the ability to climb stairs, and that is fitted with a ground penetrating radar for the detection of landmines, including anti-tank and anti-personnel.

The current model is based on a commercially available T’Rex full metal, all-terrain tank chassis which is 355 mm long, 265 mm wide and 130 mm high with 70 mm ground clearance. It weighs 6 kg. It has a line of sight range of one kilometre but Mechem is aiming to increase that distance. It is powered by two 12 volt electric motors via a single 12 volt battery, which is able to keep the vehicle operational for an hour and give it a speed of around 5 km/h. The current model is fitted with a 1280x720 pixel camera coupled to a Wi-Fi router that transmits live video to a laptop.

The vehicle was designed to collect air samples for the Mechem Explosive and Drug Detection System (MEDDS) and consequently has a 12 volt pump that sucks air through a filter situated on the platform in an aluminium housing. Once the sample is taken, the filter can be taken out for analysis by detection dogs to determine the presence of explosives or drugs. Sampling is done with the UGV stationary, and the pump takes air sample for about two minutes at a targeted area.

Cost was one of the main factors to consider when building the unit, with the purpose of the project to find the most cost effective way to minimise the risks to demining personnel in the field and do this at a fraction the price of other robotic systems on the market.

Although the UGV was developed to become part of the Mechem toolkit and not marketed as a standalone product, Faro said it would be if there was enough demand. He said there has been a lot of interest in the vehicle from the United States and elsewhere.

Regarding the UGV, Faro said it was important to keep up to date with the latest developments. The company is also working on integrating a ground penetrating radar and a vehicle mounted metal detection system into one unit. At this stage it is still operating as two systems on one platform but Mechem has for the first time fitted both onto one vehicle, as previously it was either one or the other. This has been sent to South Sudan for field tests.