In the early days of the Iraq War, US Army soldiers on patrol had few options when encountering a potential roadside bomb. They could either call in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team with its specialized bomb-disposal robot, often waiting exposed on the roadside several hours for this specialized asset to arrive, or else take the very substantial risk of attempting to investigate the suspicious object manually.
Since its inception, Exponent had been forging a relationship with the US Army Rapid Equipping Force (REF). Exponent consultants were on the ground in Iraq, working alongside their REF counterparts to devise stopgap technology measures that would combat the emergent insurgent threat. At the time the insurgent’s weapon of choice was an Improved Explosive Device (IED) – often a piece of artillery ammunition rigged as a bomb and hidden within a roadside box, trash bag, gas can, or even a dead animal. While purpose-built EOD inspection robots existed at the time, their price tag prevented widespread deployment; most patrol soldiers were left with few tools for the investigation of suspicious roadside objects.
Working with their REF counterparts, Exponent engineers on the ground conceived of and prototyped a low-cost robot that could effectively perform the singular task of suspicious object investigation. The first prototype was operational in a matter of days, and later would be credited with confirming over 30 IEDs on the notorious Airport Road between the Baghdad Airport base complex and the Green Zone. With assistance from engineers back in Exponent’s US-based offices, four spiral developments of the Multi-function, Agile, Remote-Controlled Robot (MARCbot) were released to the Army. Ultimately over 1000 production MARCbots were manufactured by Exponent for use in Iraq, and later, in Afghanistan. Among other innovations, the MARCbot was the first military robot to run exclusively on military supply chain batteries; years later this is now often a requirement for a robot that will be put into service by the Army. In 2011, Exponent’s MARCbot robot was highlighted in In-Q-Tel Quarterly in an article entitled “The MARCbot: The Army Program that Revolutionized Robotics for Patrol Warfighters.”