Building a Better Robot With Fuel Cells


Protonex Technology, a startup based in Southborough, Mass., said today that a small, tactical robot used by the military and police known as a Talon tripled its operating range in a test using a Protonex fuel-cell system along with the existing battery. The Talon was built by Waltham, Mass.’s Foster-Miller — part of the UK defense contractor QinetiQ Group — and is used mostly for surveillance and disabling bombs, but it can also be equipped to attack with either a gun or a range of non-lethal weapons, such as bean bags, smoke and pepper spray.

But don’t worry, the robots are all controlled by human operators, and as such are unlikely to become self-aware and go on a fuel-cell powered killing spree.

The fuel cell demonstration was part of a project backed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and led by the South Carolina Research Authority in Charleston, S.C. Protonex said the test was the first integration of a hybrid fuel cell-battery system into a Talon robot, and that it boosted the robot’s range to 45 kilometers (28 miles), up from 15. The hybrid system pumped out 200 watts of continuous power and the company said it also met all of the peak power demands of the robot.

The successful demonstration comes on the heels of Protonex inking a number of military contracts. But the company could still be in for a rough year — Protonex said last month that it has “experienced delays” in securing and starting up several military contracts, citing a slow federal budget process and the change in the administration. As a result, Protonex said up to a fifth of its expected fiscal 2009 contract revenue could shift into fiscal 2010, and that it could end up laying off workers as part of a plan to cut costs.

Photo of a MAARS robot, part of the Talon family of robots, courtesy of QinetiQ.

Comments are closed.