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Robotics Research and Development at Sandia

Fact Sheet

Sandia's 70,000-sq.-ft. Robotic Manufacturing Science and Engineering Laboratory.
Sandia National Laboratories has the largest robotics research program in the United States, with more than 150 researchers involved in design and development of robots for tasks such as performing microsurgery, cleaning up toxic waste, and dismantling nuclear bombs.

In general, robots are machines that can be programmed to perform work. They typically are guided by a computer control system. Many robots also have sensors that permit them to move and perform programmed work, or they can be guided by human remote control. Robots are ideal for performing work that is precise, repetitive, or involves high risk to humans, such as nuclear waste cleanup or the exploration of space.

Sandia's robotics program divides into three principal areas, each comprising about one-third of the overall program:

Sandia transfers much of the technology it develops in the robotics program to the private sector through cooperative research and development agreements with businesses. The robotics program has become the second-largest part of Sandia's technology transfer program, behind computer chip research. Sandia also collaborates with other government agencies, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Naval Research Laboratory, to transfer its robotics technologies.

Sandia has developed several telerobotic vehicles that are ideal for performing potentially dangerous tasks. The Remote TeleRobotic Vehicle for Intelligent Remediation (RETRVIR), for instance, is able to locate, excavate, and remove unknown and potentially hazardous objects from a site using advanced sensor-based graphical control technology and a remotely operated vehicle. The rugged RETRVIR rests on a Honda all-terrain vehicle and has a robotic arm that can dig and pick up objects weighing up to 250 pounds.

Sandia's 70,000-square-foot Robotic Manufacturing Science and Engineering Laboratory is the nation's premier facility for research and development of intelligent robotic systems. The $33 million facility, completed in 1996, has two stories, 36 individual labs, conference facilities, an auditorium, an outdoor robotics test track, and areas that allow visitors to view robots at work.

Sandia is the primary agency responsible to the Department of Energy for carrying out needed robotics research and development. Future DOE work will require extensive robotics and automation technology to meet environmental, safety, health and cost goals for the inspection, disassembly and certification of retired nuclear weapons and their components. Smart robotics and automation technologies under development at Sandia also will provide DOE with the capability to upgrade nuclear weapons remaining in the stockpile as needed for continued national security. In addition, DOE environmental restoration and waste management activities will rely heavily on robotic systems to safely and quickly perform many operations including the characterization and cleanup of waste sites across the country.

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for the United States Department of Energy.
Media contact:
Larry Perrine, lgperri@sandia.gov (505) 845-8511

Last modified: June 25, 1998

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