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Robot finds booby traps in Afghanistan

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (Army News Service, March 5, 2003) -MATILDA, a robot, has leant it's helping hand, or more appropriately, helping claw, to law enforcement agencies for several years.

Now it's aiding the U.S. military in Afghanistan. MATILDA is affixed with a retractable arm and claw. It can find booby traps, search caves, tunnels and buildings and haul a pretty good load for being the size of a small dog.

The robot's name stands for Mesa Associates' Tactical

Integrated Light-Force Deployment Assembly, and several are in use in by units such as the 27th Engineer Battalion of Fort Bragg, N.C.

"It's better to send a robot into a cave or tunnel than a soldier," said Terry O'Donoghue, who traveled to Afghanistan to train soldiers on MATILDA.

O'Donoghue and several members of the Countermine/Counter Booby Trap Center from Fort Leonardwood, Mo., spent February teaching new tactics for dealing with the old threats of booby traps and mines that they developed at the center. Besides MATILDA, the group also instructed soldiers on new mine-mapping software, mine detectors and other techniques.

"Landmines and explosives are the poor man's way of waging war," said the center's department director, Dorian D'aria. "He doesn't have to fight in the open. This is the type of warfare we face now."

Center representatives, who developed the Army's training manual on mines and booby traps, trained almost 100 engineers in Afghanistan on the new

technologies. They displayed a variety of detection methods and taught soldiers how to avoid and deter these hazards, which are prevalent in Afghanistan.

MATILDA sports an arm with a 35-pound lift, it has seven cameras capable of panning, tilting, zooming and operating in low-light conditions, a one-kilometer reel that can tow 475 pounds and a fiber-optic control system. The track-wheeled machine can climb stairs and carry more than 100 pounds.

When Company C, 27th Eng. Bn., learned how to operate MATILDA, they controlled the robot remotely and looked through its eye-view with its cameras to master its maneuverability. The robot saves engineers from some of their hazardous work.

"It can go into buildings and make sure its safe," said Pfc. Matthew Varrato, an enginner. He said he was excited to operate MATILDA in a real-life situation.

Each of the soldiers got their turn at the helm. They started simply by learning how to operate the arm and retrieve a bottle off of a shelf. By the end of the course, they sent MATILDA into an abandoned building, rigged with imitation booby traps.

(Editor's note: This release was submitted from the Coalition Task Force 82 Public Affairs Office.)

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