A CORK robotics business is expanding its humanitarian efforts and hoping to create a remote stretcher system to facilitate the rescue of landmine casualties.
Kieran Nolan from ICP Newtech in Killbritain said he hopes the device — currently in its pre-development stage — will become a reality in the next few years.
Their latest bomb disposal robot, the Avenger, has saved lives all around the world. However, Kieran insists that they are not finished yet.
The CEO explained why he is so passionate about his latest vision, which would allow for the rescue of people from places like collapsed buildings and landmine areas without the risk to additional lives.
“There are all sorts of different aspects to this, but again it’s back to the three Ds — dull, dangerous, and dirty,” he said.
“It can be very dangerous to get somebody who is dying either in a minefield or other dangerous environment. If you look at the number of unexploded mines in the world, you wonder how it’s possible to get that person out safely without risking more lives in the process.
“People think that unexploded mines only exist in places like Cambodia and Africa, but there is a substantial amount in Europe — including from the Bosnian war, for instance. You would be surprised at the number of unexploded devices still scattered throughout Europe. A remote-control-operated delivery of stretchers would be a very nice piece to have, so it’s something that we’re looking at.”
ICP NewTech is known for producing remotely operated vehicles used in bomb disposal, hazardous material management, and mine clearance. Founded in October 2013, it now exports to 26 countries across the globe.
It all started after then-CEO Eamonn Jackson — who recently retired and has adopted a vice president of business development role with the company — and current CEO Kieran Nolan restored a business that shut down in Kilbrittain in 2018.
This was the robotics division of US-owned Allen–Vanguard, which relocated to the UK and, in 2013, closed due to rationalisation.
Mr Jackson and Mr Nolan, who had both previously worked together at Allen-Vanguard, took the decision to buy the assets of the division, including the Defender and Vanguard robots.
While the company has evolved, its objective to utilise robots for the good of mankind always remains. Kieran explained why this can be a hard balance to achieve.
“There has to be a commercial aspect so we can make enough money to sustain it,” he said.
“When we are looking for other products to include in the portfolio, we are thinking about what else we can do and develop in different areas. A lot of the robotic stuff, even for military and security, is aggressive in nature and we don’t want to play into that space.
“It limits us quite a lot in terms of what we can develop. Now we are looking at triage mobile stretchers. the idea is to take the chassis we’re developing for the larger systems and use that for remote stretcher delivery.”
He said it is unsettling to know just how accessible explosives are.
“All the materials for these threats are available in your local stores,” he said. “They are very easy to put together with very little know-how.
“That’s the purpose of these machines — to save lives. It’s extremely dangerous approaching these things and there is no easy way to do it. The only real solution is to do it remotely.”
Mr Nolan added that explosives have been wreaking havoc since before modern warfare technology even existed.
“The very first vehicle bomb was set off in a horse-drawn cart in Wall Street in the US during the Great Depression. This is not something that’s new or difficult to do. Whatever grievance someone has, this is an easy way to vent it. It is truly global.
“We don’t talk about it much because there’s a danger we may be promoting it to the type of people who might use the information or technology for wrongdoing. It’s an unwritten rule that you keep a low profile.
“This is happening all over the world, but the threat varies from region to region. A lot of terrorists recruit students from universities who can forage for information on the internet on how to create threats. Your solution has to flexible, and must be relevant to each region.”
While remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) often conjure up images of locations like Afghanistan and Iraq, much of ICP’s work focuses on the domestic market. This could involve anything from unexploded Second World War bombs to working with the Gardaí and other security groups to render an item safe.
Eamonn, who is also the CEO of his own company Donzie and Associates, pointed out how complicated the robotic designs are in nature.
“Apart from the robot, he develops quite a lot of the sensing integration,” he said.
“It’s one thing having a robot that goes into an area, but another to have the capabilities of sensing chemical, biological, nuclear type devices. The designs that have been done are to coincide with products that have that sensing capability. It’s important that the robot has the intelligence to be able to interlink with that.”
Kieran described the process of creating a new product.
“We’re limited in what we can develop because of the humanitarian requirements that we put on ourselves,” he said.
“It’s a three-year cycle from a development point of view, because everything takes so long.
“The Avenger took a considerably long time. Normally you have technology or control systems that you can take, but when you are doing a new chassis or a new control system, there is a lot more involved.”
Some of the pair’s robots have even gone on to forge careers in television.
“The digital vanguard was on CSI,” said Kieran.
“A few of our robots have been on television over the years. It’s interesting to see how they use them, because they do subtle things like add sound effects to give it add a kind of a sci-fi dimension.”
The company now has a facility in Ottawa, Canada. They also boast representation in Alabama, as well as exporting to Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America.
To find out more about the companies impressive robot portfolio, visit www.icpnewtech.com.