HDQGIT: How Did Qsine Get Into This?
It may seem funny (or like poor management) that I cannot simply explain how we landed a flagship project such as this but it has very complicated origins. We were not a military contractor before the project, and now that it is complete, we really are not a military contractor again; except that we now have a NATO CAGE Code. A CAGE code is basically a serial number identifing us as being in the military system as a supplier.
If there is one factor I can point to that was more important than any other in how we got involved, it is Chris Brosinsky at DRES. When we first met Chris, he was researching all kinds of vehicles for military applications in the VCG at DRES. In particular, they were trying to achieve complex actuations on a walking, rolling vehicle and wanted to do it hydraulically.
The vehicle was called ANT and it had legs with a wheel on the end of each of them. The wheels are for rapid transit and the legs are used to walk over obstacles or set the ground clearance and pitch of the vehicle. A paper that documents some of the effects that they studied is available in PDF format by clicking here. More can be seen at Zanthic Technologies where Steve Letkeman did the electronic controls for the ANT. The vehicle can be seen on his project page by clicking here.
Chris came to us to see if we could help solve the actuation problems. We are still not sure exactly what we did but Chris seemed to really like the way we solved problems. In working with him and others at DRES we felt like they had been misled or had brought in other contractors that were over their heads with hydraulics problems they were trying to solve. In any event, we built a lot of trust in the relationship we formed. As a result, we helped him out with other hydraulic projects. One was a simpler vehicle that they put a hydraulic transmissions into but could not get to perform up to expectations. That vehicle was a little ARGO (hunting & fishing, skid steer, all terrain vehicle) that was converted for tele-operation (radio control). It was used as a demonstration tool and after we helped Chris and the VGC gang with the hydrostatic drive, the controls worked smooth as silk. The demonstration was a big success leaving a good impression on the spectators who would later be influential in the ILDP/ILDS projects.
One of the interesting things happening at the time was that the VCG had previously converted many vehicles for teleoperation including but not limited to: a Bobcat skid steer loader; D6 Caterpillar crawler;a Jeep; and an ARGO. What they found was that the vehicles designed for human operators where often difficult to convert because the controls required dexterity and intelligence. Complex and often cumbersome mechanisms were required to simulate human motor skills. A favorite example of this is imagine a mechanism that can shift a 4-speed, floor shift, manual transmission.
The ANT vehicle was a first attempt at designing and building a vehicle specifically for teleoperated control. The actuators were all specified with electric or electronic interfaces. Components that were purely mechanical were selected with electronic integration in mind. We helped them with the hydraulic transmission and accessory power systems. The ANT vehicle was so small that the hydrostatic pump we ended up using was only available with a manual control that was meant to be operated by a push pull cable. They hand built two servo controls that actuated each pump (one pump for the left wheels, one for the right). The servos were simple on paper but after the effort it took to make two custom servos, we realized that we should have chosen a larger pump that had the electronic controls built in. Regardless, the hydrostatic drive gave them direction control (forward/reverse), speed control both ways, steering control (skid steer) and true dynamic, compression braking (this is a fancy way of saying that the transmission can slow the vehicle to a hard stop without using friction type brakes) all with two electrical signals. The elegance of this is hard to ignore from the standpoint of developing and implementing an electronic control system.
Following the ARGO job, we continued helping with ANT (mechanically as well as hydraulically) and other projects at DRES. While those projects were going on, the strife in Bosnia was hitting its peak. In a short span of time, one Canadian peace keeper was killed and another lost his legs to landmine blasts. At that point, a lot of attention was focused on landmines.
As it turned out, researchers at DRES had a proposal into DND for revisiting a landmine detection system. They originally worked on a system based on sensors that were considered the most applicable at the time. As time passed however, new detection technologies had emerged and showed potential of being superior. The proposal in at DND was to revisit the landmine detection system but using the newer technology.
Our Canadian military is quite well know for it's constrained budgets. So when DND looks at providing leadership in a global sense, they try to do it by deploying assets that provide large scale innovation rather than large scale battlefield readiness. The sensors proposed for landmine detection showed great promise in the laboratory environment but were unproven in field conditions. Deploying the sensors into real military applications was an opportunity to make a global contribution to the research and development of demining technologies.
Somewhere, somehow, it was decided that DND would act on the opportunity. Overnight, DRES's proposal went from being somewhere between 80-100 on the priority list to number 1. Teams were assembled quickly and duties and responsibilities were delgated in short order. The VCG at DRES, lead by Doug Hanna, was given the task of delivering a vehicle to carry the sensor and controls. Everyone in the VCG was watching the work we were doing with Chris and seemed pleased with the results we were producing. Doug, Chris and their team new what they wanted for a vehicle and they wanted Qsine to do it. All I can say is that we just happened to be sitting at the right place at the right time.