Driverless vehicle will save lives in war zones
EXCLUSIVE: THANKS to a Caloundra vehicle manufacturer, soldiers wounded in battles around the world could soon be rescued by driverless, remote-controlled vehicles.
After two years and more than $1 million in research and development, Praesidium Global is set to release its unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) to the specialist military market around the world.
Each unit is predicted to sell for between $250,000 and $1 million.
The organisation registered as a company just two months ago and has already won a coveted invitation to demonstrate its remotely operated, armoured vehicle at the Army Innovation Day in Canberra on October 12.
Known as Assisted Casualty Extraction or "Ace", the camouflage-painted six-wheel UGV is designed to remove injured personnel from hazardous areas, such as those encountered in war zones.
A robotic arm, multiple cameras and triage supplies on board enable the wounded person to perform his/her own emergency first aid with the use of the robotic arm, which is controlled remotely by other personnel.
Interest from several multinational companies involved in defence equipment commercialisation as well as the Australian Defence Force had been very strong, founder and general manager David Baird said.
"We're already communicating with other countries at the moment but it's a significant coup to get it into the Australian Defence Force.
"It's the common question everyone asks, 'do you supply to the Australian Defence Force?'."
Praesidium is Latin for "garrison" or "defence" and the company beat hundreds of applicants when it was invited to join a select group of 30 at the demonstration day.
Mr Baird and Praesidium Global business development manager Matt Sims (pictured) were in Papua New Guinea when they received the news a week ago.
If the Army likes what it sees at their demonstration, it will likely buy a unit for field trials and evaluation.
"One of the biggest problems we've had with defence is whenever we go into a conflict, we tend to bring the plate, but we rely on the Americans to bring the knife, fork and spoon," Mr Baird said.
"Now Australia is trying to get become more self-sufficient and provide its own key equipment."
It's currently the medic's job to risk their life and run to the aid of a wounded soldier but Mr Baird said his company's vehicles would save lives.
With a background in the military and electronics, Mr Baird brings first-hand experience to the vehicle's production as has served in war zones and seen people stranded, wounded and needing help.
While he said he didn't want to go into his own experiences, the observations he made in battle informed his decision to start his current project.
"I learned a long time ago that any idiot can take a life, but not everyone can save one," he said.
"There's a big difference, and it's always been a thing for me - and that's why we're doing what we're doing."
The company's UGVs have the ability to be used in a combat role, as well as rescues.
Modules that included weapons mounted on the unmanned ground vehicle will soon be ready to commercialise, as will a module that detects military mines and improvised explosive devices (home-made explosives).
All Praesidium staff had been asked how they would feel when they saw a news report of one of their units deployed with a weapon on it, shooting people - "because ultimately, that's exactly what will happen," he said.
"It's okay when you've seen our casualty unit pulling someone out of danger - that's great, no-one's got a problem with that.
"Our staff were asked how would they feel if they were part of the design process on that ... and saw it taking a life."
He said he had "mixed emotions" with that scenario himself.
"War is war - everyone has their opinion on conflict.
"But sometimes it's a necessary evil."
He said the company had a blacklist of countries it would not sell the technology to.
"We have certain moral values and there are certain countries that we wouldn't deal with.
"Monetarily it would be advantageous to us, but at the end of the day you have to be able to sleep at night.
"I have children, you know, and a lot of these things end up in the wrong places, in Africa in particular. And we've seen time and time again."
He admitted there was nothing to stop anyone taking one of his UGVs and building their own module.
"They could reverse-engineer it ... like everything else in existence."
While his engineers had deliberately made it difficult for people to improvise and build their own weaponry modules to mount on Praesidium Global's UGVs, Mr Baird agreed it was possible the machines could end up with "improvised" mounts.
"As we've seen in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, they are phenomenal at improvisation," he said.
But given its humanitarian and other commercial uses advances the technology made possible, this was a risk the Praesidium Global team was willing to take.