TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. — Tobyhanna Army Depot’s new robotics mission helps warfighters remotely search for improvised explosive devices using either a laptop computer or backpack control system.

The depot’s System Integration and Support, Production Engineering, and Communication Systems directorates are involved in fabricating and upgrading several components of the iRobot unmanned ground vehicles.

“There is no doubt that this mission directly saves lives,” said Chase Gardner, electronics engineer in the Production Engineering Directorate. “The work we do at the depot with the iRobots provides Soldiers a larger safety blanket and greater sense of security by extending the range of communications between the vehicle and the operator.”

The requirement to upgrade two different robots came as part of a joint urgent operational needs statement asking for improved communication capabilities.

The larger iRobot 510 PackBot system features a front- and rear-facing camera, mechanical arm and two ‘forks’ that allow the robot to position itself in several different stances.

The iRobot 310 small unmanned ground vehicle is slightly smaller and is controlled using an optic lens. Both systems are operated using video game controllers.

Michael Murray, an electronics integrated systems mechanic in the Communication Systems Directorate, said the mission requires a wide range of knowledge and skills.

“This project uses hands-on skills like soldering and manual troubleshooting but also incorporates software-based knowledge,” he said. “Since it is such a new mission and requires a different type of thinking, a total team effort is required to pull all of our skills together and put out a quality product while adapting to customer requests.”

Requests include fixing a problem with the battery door latches. Increased temperatures would cause the latch to fail, leaving the door unsecured. Had the problem persisted, the robot may not have functioned properly, compromising the safety of the warfighter and his mission. Electronics worker, Nicholas Prehotsky’s solution to replace the ineffective latches with snaps not only fixed the problem, but saved time and money.

Tactical Radio Branch chief Patrick Connolly said adapting to challenges and quickly finding solutions is an integral part of the mission.

“Problems are to be expected, but knowing that warfighters count on our work to keep them safe pushes us to be accountable,” said Connolly.

“I know that I’m a part of something that directly supports our Soldiers and has the potential to bring even more modern technology to the depot,” said Prehotsky.

To date, Tobyhanna has fielded more than 200 iRobot kits to both systems.