Prototype robot can help lift burden on humans in reporting on dangerous chemicals

Merlin robot

The UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Dstl, has developed a prototype robot so that humans and machines can share the burden of detecting and report dangerous chemicals over large areas.

The Merlin Robot, developed by Warwickshire-based HORIBA-MIRA with funding from the MOD and the Home Office, autonomously carried out simulated chemical reconnaissance tasks over test areas covering up to 10,000 square metres. Currently a single prototype, deployment of the Merlin robot allows personnel to monitor and manage the test incident scene from a safe distance, away from potential harm.

Chemical reconnaissance (recce) on foot and in specially modified vehicles is currently carried out by specialist personnel in the event of suspected or confirmed use of chemical agents. It is a dangerous and laborious task requiring high levels of specialist training. In the future, however, autonomous systems could enable the task with significantly less burden on personnel and at lower risk to the deployed teams.

A spokesperson from 27 Squadron RAF Regiment said: “It was a hugely interesting project to be part of within the early development stages, and it was a pleasure to work alongside the MIRA and Dstl personnel who were very engaged, approachable and keen to listen to our observations and experience. The system has a lot of potential and testing our personnel against the AI of the robot was a good benchmark.”

Dstl’s project technical lead, Andy Martin said: “The technology has significant potential in a number of fields, and work to explore the exploitation pathways within CBR and elsewhere is well underway.”