The Mobile Detection Assessment and Response System (MDARS) is a joint Army-Navy development effort to provide an automated intrusion detection and inventory assessment capability for use in DoD warehouses and storage sites. The program is managed by the Office of Product Manager - Force Protection Systems (PM-FPS) at Ft. Belvoir, VA. Overall technical direction for the program is provided by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific (SSC PAC).
The MDARS goal is to provide multiple mobile platforms that perform random patrols within assigned areas of warehouses and storage sites. The patrolling platforms: 1) detect intruders, and 2) determine the status of inventoried items through the use of specialized RF transponder tags.
In October 2010 the first MDARS vehicle went online at Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), providing low-cost around the clock security patrols. The MDARS is the first robot to operate for the organization in charge of guarding the nuclear sites in the United States. Equipped with Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), Radar and Light Detection And Ranging (LADAR) sensors the production MDARS is able to operate a 12-hour shift without needing to be refueled.
All MDARS platforms can run simultaneously from a single console located in the NNSS command center as they operate autonomously only requiring direct operator input to assess important situations such as when it detects intruders or suspect activity.
The MDARS will save NNSS an estimated $1 million in annual force protection labor and equipment maintenance costs. Additionally, use of the platforms will save the site approximately $6 million in infrastructure costs for equipment such as lights, towers, cameras, trenching and burial of cables to support the towers and motion detection units needed to provide protection of remote sensitive areas. Two additional MDARS platforms will deploy within the next 6-months in other remote locations at NNSS.
Separate development efforts targeted warehouse interiors and outdoor storage areas. Initiated in 1988, the MDARS-Interior program utilized the K3A Navmaster mobility base developed by Cybermotion, Inc., of Roanoke, VA, equipped with additional collision avoidance, intruder assessment, and product inventory subsystems by General Dynamics Robotics Systems (GDRS) of Westminster, MD. A Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) contract was awarded to Cybermotion to develop a significantly improved intruder detection sensor package with an integrated camera pan-and-tilt mechanism. Simultaneous control of two robots patrolling nightly within an interior warehouse environment was demonstrated for over two years at a beta-test facility at Camp Elliott in San Diego, CA. Two additional robots were operational for almost a year in an Early User Appraisal installation within a Defense Logistics Agency warehouse at Anniston Army Depot in Alabama. The MDARS-Interior Engineering Manufacturing Development contract was awarded to General Dynamics Robotic Systems (GDRS).
The MDARS Exterior Program extended the robotic security and inventory control concepts of the Interior program into the realm of semi-structured outdoor environments (i.e., improved roads, defined fence lines, and standardized storage layouts) such as storage yards, dock facilities, and airfields. Inventory control consists of verifying the contents of closed structures (i.e., warehouses, bunkers, igloos) without the need for opening, as well as inventory of items that are stored outside of structures (planes, HMMWVs, etc).
The Exterior Program awarded a BAA contract for the development of the outdoor mobility platforms to Robotic Systems Technology (RST, now GDRS), in Westminster, MD. The mobility base is a rugged four-wheel hydrostatic-drive diesel-powered vehicle equipped with active-laser, ultrasonic-sonar, millimeter-wave-radar, and stereo-vision sensors for collision avoidance. Two BAA prototypes underwent a successful Technical Feasibility Testing in May 2000. A System Development and Demonstration contract was awarded to GDRS in January 2002.
The design of the MDARS system is driven by a number of characteristics of the application domain:
- MDARS must function as a key component of a complete security system that also includes fixed detection capabilities and human security guards;
- the patrol coverage of multiple mobile robotic platforms must be controlled and coordinated to minimize opportunities for undetected intrusion, even by insiders;
- the environment MDARS operates in requires navigational capabilities that respond to unknown and dynamic events (e.g., pedestrians, other cars on the road,) on the one hand and a completely structured and static environment (e.g., bridges, road intersections) on the other.
The significance of novel features ("exceptional events") sensed by the robots must be assessed by the MDARS system, relying strictly on robotic sensors when possible and invoking the assistance of the human operator when necessary. When automated assessment indicates that a valid threat condition exists, the appropriate response must be invoked. Nonthreatening events must also be handled, with minimal involvement of the human operator (e.g., autonomously navigate around a parked vehicle or other obstacle).
SSC Pacific also conducted exploratory development efforts to expand MDARS force protection capability. These included the addition of a non-lethal gun pod and marsupial carriers that can deploy smaller tracked robots and vertical-takeoff-and-landing unmanned aerial vehicles to provide closeup investigation of off-path incidents.
See also: MDARS Increment II follow-on effort.