Unmanned systems, which are on the rise in the Marine Corps, are designed to do the dull, dangerous and dirty. And now managing unmanned aircraft, vehicles and ground robots can all be done with one controller called the Tactical Robotic Controller, or the TRC.
“We had five different robots using five different controllers and five different battery types,” said Gunnery Sgt. Steven C. Sullivan, project officer with the ground combat element at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. “Now, we’re trying to standardize everything.”
For the past two years, personnel at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab have worked on the TRC, a fourth-generation prototype, to create the ideal controller for all unmanned assets.
“When this controller started out, it was literally a suitcase with joystick controllers, knobs and push buttons for every command,” Sullivan said. “Here at the Warfighting Lab, we broke it down into a controller that works not only on this system, but anybody who has any robot anywhere can come give us their data package, we can load it into this common controller and it can control the aircraft.”
The TRC prototype hasn’t just dramatically changed in size since its early days, it is now also much easier to use.
“We designed the controller to be as close to today’s operating systems – Xboxes, Gameboys, iPhones and everything else – as we can get,” Sullivan said. “It doesn’t get any more complicated than that.”
The TRC features directional joysticks like those on any electronic gaming system controller as well as a touch-screen display. The controller pack can be worn on a Marine’s back for easy maneuverability. The display screen is able to show up to four camera views from the unmanned system or can opt for single viewpoint display.
With the creation of the TRC, battalions and units can now use the controller to manage all their unmanned assets with one simple system, although only
one system can be controlled at a time.
“The TRC, which is eight pounds of hardware, can control close to 16 or 17 different unmanned assets from different vendors right now,” said Brent J. Azzarelli, Chief Robotics Engineer for USMC/USN Programs in Dahlgren, Va.
Although many of the new robots being developed by the Marine Corps as well as the TRC offer exciting possibilities for Marines worldwide, the systems
still have a lot of certification and testing to go through.
“We’re going to get it to Marines as fast as we possibly can without jeopardizing anyone’s life,” Sullivan said. “Why give them a piece of equipment that’s going to fail them, especially when their lives depend on it?”
For now, personnel at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory are working hard to ensure Marines receive the best possible unmanned systems and controller to ensure Marines are protected from unnecessary harm.