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Hill AFB partners with iRobot to repair, maintain military robots

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — In today's world, the arrival of robots at a blue-collar maintenance facility usually means the machines are taking over.

But under a developing contract at Hill Air Force Base, the gadgets will create work for humans instead of take it away.

The Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill is working through a partnership agreement with the iRobot Corporation, an American advanced technology company that was founded in 1990 and designs robots like Scooba, the autonomous home vacuum cleaner.

And before you start straining to figure out what connection a spotless living room could possibly have to the Air Force, the company also produces an extensive line of robots designed for use in military and policing functions.

iRobot's machines have been used in military operations since the 1990s — perhaps most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, disposing of roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices.

The robots expected to arrive at Hill are used by explosive ordnance disposal technicians to disarm IEDs, investigate roadside hazards and clear routes for troops on the move.

The robots head into the heart of the danger zone while EOD specialists remain at a safe distance.

The EOD robots vary in size, from a small, light, throwable robot for special operations to a large robot that carries heavy payloads.

"(We're) proud to provide robotic capabilities that help our warfighters accomplish their mission," said Frank Wilson, senior vice president and general manager of iRobot's Defense & Security business unit.

"We're excited to be joining (Hill Air Force Base)."

Details in the Hill/iRobot partnership are still being hammered out, but the agreement has the ALC performing all of the hands-on production labor for repair of the EOD-model robots.

iRobot will provide the parts, engineering and other logistics needed for the base to perform the labor.

Wilson said, in the future, iRobot's military robots could perform tasks like loading aircraft, cleaning equipment and handling hazardous materials.

Maj. Gen. H. Brent Baker Sr., Ogden ALC commander, said the robotics contract will diversify Hill's maintenance workload, allowing the base to venture into a market that is virtually untapped in the government defense industry.

"What we've kind of found out is that people have a lot of fun building robots, but they don't like to fix them," he said, "so hopefully that's where we can step right in."

At this point, Baker says there will be no increase in staffing at Hill, as the ALC will use internal personnel during the beginning of the effort.

Baker said the robots aren't the only "unmanned" military tool Hill maintains.

The base also performs depot maintenance on the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles.

The UAVs, with their advanced sensors, precision munitions and long-lasting capability, have become some of the most effective weapons in the global war on terror.

"All of this stuff is the future," Baker said, "and we're trying to take advantage of that."

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