2008: A team of Filipino engineers designed and built a bomb disposal robot
that costs $6,100. The team was quite proud of this, because similar American
devices cost up to a several hundred thousand dollars. The Filipino MAC
(Mechanical Anti-Terrorist Concept) is two feet tall, three feet wide and five
feet long. It has a mobile arm that can lift objects weighing up to 11 pounds.
It has vidcams in front and behind that have night-vision. The four wheeled
vehicle runs off motorcycle batteries, and can move at up to four meters a
second. MAC is controlled via a 150 foot cable, with the operator viewing the
video feed on a laptop. MAC, which weighs about a hundred pounds, can carry up
to 44 pounds of equipment, and future versions will carry different types of
equipment. In October, the MAC won an international competition for such
technologies in China. There is a demand for the MAC in the Philippines, where
Islamic terrorists, and criminals sending a message, use timer or remotely
controlled bombs in public places. Several times a week, police in the capital
city of Manila have need of something like MAC. Other cities, particularly in
the Moslem south, also need MAC.
The low cost
of the MAC was partly due to lower costs in the Philippines, where most of the
key components were designed and manufactured. The MAC team also benefitted
from over a decade of rapid progress in the design and manufacture of bomb
disposal robots. Similar American devices are more expensive because they are
smaller, lighter, more durable and mobile, as well as controlled wirelessly.
The MAC was designed for use by police, while the U.S. military uses them in
combat conditions, where the bots are subject to more potential damage. Thus
you pay a lot more to ensure that the devices will keep operating despite
damage or rougher terrain.
But the U.S.
has also sought to build cheaper, less robust, droids. For example, three years
ago, the U.S. Department of Defense was desperate to get more robots to the
troops in Iraq. There was a big demand for these small robots, like the Packbot
or Talon, that were used to check out roadside bombs and similar booby traps.
These little machines were saving lots of lives, but there were not enough of
them. Costing over $100,000 each, and built carefully to military standards,
they could not be produced quickly enough. So a call was put out for other
manufacturers to deliver something cheaper, and in larger quantities.
companies quickly came up with similar ideas. Basically, the new bot on the
block was a modified remote control dump truck. The cheapest of the two, called
a "BomBot," is a four wheel vehicle is equipped with a vidcam that
can move independently, and a custom control unit that can make the truck move
more precisely and farther from the operator. The fifteen pound robot is a
compact 22x20x18 inches. Troops like the
fact that these new bots are smaller and lighter.
The basic drill for a BomBot is to approach
(at speeds of up to 15 meters a second) a potential bomb, check it out via the
vidcam, and then activate the rear part of the truck to dump a small, remote
control, explosive next to the IED, and move away. The explosive is detonated,
destroying the IED. The first BomBots cost about $32,000 each (mostly for
R&D and developing the custom components), and the first 300 arrived in
Iraq in early 2006. They were very successful, and over 2,000 more were ordered.
This brought the unit price down to about $5,000 each. Still a lot for a toy
that costs about a hundred bucks at Wal Mart. But BomBot (and its cousin,
MarcBot) are much enhanced so they will perform reliably in a hot and dusty
combat zone (not a green and temperate suburb). If anyone could do it cheaper,
with the same level of performance, the Department of Defense is always open to
The MAC team
have a talent for this kind of work, and the Filipino army has agreed to
provide additional funds for more development efforts. With lower production
costs, and obvious engineering and development talent for this work, the
Philippines could become a source of low cost, high performance bomb disposal
robots for the many countries that cannot afford the more expensive U.S.