Design and production of embedded electronics, software, telemetry- and remote-control applications

Minecat 230 and Minecat 140

These machines are developed for clearing land mines, especially anti-personnel mines, even though the were designed to also withstand anti-tank mines without experiencing critical damage.

Minecat 230 was the first machine to be manufactured and it was initially designed with an air conditioned drivers cabin at the back. At the same time, the machine was equipped with a remote control option to enable safe operation in areas with high risk of encountering anti-tank mines or heavier explosives. It soon turned out that the cabin was a very uncomfortable place to sit for a longer time due to the noise, vibrations and risk of damage from the shock caused by exploding mines. Finally, it ended up being used more like the trunk of a car, a place to stowe away all kind of equipment. With the good experience gained from operating the machine at distance by remote control, it was therefore soon decided that there was no need for the drivers cabin. Instead, the free space at the back of the machine was used for an extra cooling unit, a necessity when operating the machine for longer duration under hot desert conditThese machines are developed for clearing land mines, especially anti-personnel mines, even though the were designed to also withstand anti-tank mines without experiencing critical damage.

Minecat 230 under demining operation.

The Minecat 230 weighted approx. 8 tons and had a 230cm wide flail at the front. The rotating flail equipped with chains and hammers carved up the ground in the full flail width as it drove slowly over the minefield and detonated or destroyed any mines that was any mines that was encountered during the operation.

It has been manufactured a total of 10 Minecat 230 machines and they have been in use in different countries as Lebanon, Jordan, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iran. Most machines has been operated by the Norwegian Peoples Aid while some was operated by their English counterpart MAG (Mines Advisory group) and the armed forces of Lebanon and Jordan. The two machines used in Iran was owned by Norsk Hydro and operated by personnel from the Norwegian Peoples Aid. They were primarily used for clearing in the Anaran area in western Iran, close to the Iraqi border. This was an area where Norsk Hydro saw a potential for oil exploration and was about to start seismic exploration. Many of the machines have been taken out of service during the years due to wear and damage, but there is still at least one operational machine in use. The machine is operated by MAG from their base outside Nabatieh in Southern Lebanon

The smaller Minecat 140 machine weights approx. 4 tons and have a smaller flail with a width of 140cm. This machine is, due to its's low weight more targeted against anti-personnel mines and it is so lightweight that it may be transported on a trailer pulled behind a personnel car like a Land rover, something that greatly simplifies transportation.

Remote Control System NRC-1

The Minecat Machines was developed by Unipro Automasjon AS in Halden and Novatron AS was asked to develop a customized remote control for this machine.

The term "remote control" is however not a correct description this system as the remote control is just a part of the functionality. Mainly it is a control system for the machine that can be operated either by cable (initially for operation inside the cabin) or by wireless communication. In addition to communication, the system perform a lot of different functions such as keeping the speed of the tracks constant during varying load, adjusting the height of the flail arm for optimal flailing efficiency and so on. In addition, the system continuously monitor all engine pressures, temperatures and fluid levels and trigger operator warnings and alarms if the limits are exceeded. When critical situations occur, for example excessive engine temperatures or loss of oil pressure, an automatic and controlled shutdown of the system is initiated to reduce damage to engines and hydraulic system. After the immediate shutdown, the operator can then make an evaluation of the situation and then take appropriate action, either to either to pull it out of the minefield by force if necessary or restart the machine and drive it back out the minefield under strong supervision to a repair site outside the field.

Operator Control Panel for Minecat 140/230

The system is divided into 2 main parts, the central control system mounted on rubber dampers inside the vehicle, and the remote operator panel that communicates with the vehicle mounted equipment by cable or wireless.

The system has two-way communication, sending commands from the operator to the machine and returning real time status data back to the operator. All sensors are monitored for alarm and warnings states locally inside the vehicle and only reported back to operator when and unormal situation occur. The two way communication also enable the operator to manually scroll though the different menus and read out any data that might be of interest or to change parameters on the fly.

The system uses packet communication with checksum verification and communicates in the 440-450 MHz band. It has a transmitting power that allow communication in excess of 1 km (in excess of 10 km free sight). It will however be difficult to operate the machine over so long distance only based on direct visual observation. Due to this, an option with wireless video-link was under preparation, primarily to satisfy special requirements from military authorities. This option was however not installed on any vehicle as the project was closed down soon afterwards.

In addition to the remote control functionality, a few simpler all electronic fuse- and power distribution modules was also designed to supply the system with power and provide an efficient and failsafe way of controlling high current consumers such as starter motors and diesel engine glow plugs (max current up to 130A). These modules was sealed and filled with epoxy resin to make them less exposed to vibration and environmental influence. In case of short circuit, the outputs will be instantly switched off and stay off as long as the problem exists. As soon as the short circuit is removed, the power will be switched on again without any need for external interference. Where monitoring is necessary, a feedback to the control system is provided so that the operator will be informed of the situation by a warning or an alarm.

Solid state fuse and power distribution unit
developed for Minecat

At the end of the project, preparations was also made to convert the machine into a more autonomous operating vehicle. The heart of this extension was an autopilot system using a high accuracy differential-RTK combined GPS/GLONASS positioning system with a position accuracy of approx. 10 cm (GLONASS is the Prussian counterpart of GPS). This would have made major improvements to the clearing accuracy and overall clearing capacity as the machine would be able to operate under operating conditions (dust and dark) that would be impossible under human observation and control. With an autopilot system added, the operator would be relieved from the tiresome job of continuously steering the machine for hours under poor visual conditions. Instead, the operator could now concentrate on planning and setting up the machines clearing area in addition to supervise the vehicle during operation and performing regular service (refueling and replacing air filters).

During autopilot operation, the operator control panel would be used only for supervising machine status an for handling any warnings or alarms that may occur. All control of the vehicle would then be done by the autopilot based on satellite based positioning with correctional data from a locally placed reference station. During operation, the machine would send all positioning data continuously to a laptop computer where the data would be saved to hard disc and at the same time show a plot of the cleared area on a map. A printout of the track-plot showing the cleared area with each individual track visible would provide documentation of the operation performed. By studying this map, it can be seen wether 100% of the are had been cleared and that there was adequate overlap between the adjacent tracks to ensure that the required safety margins was satisfactory fulfilled.

Additional information

Minecat 140 during flailing

Below, you may find the brochure of the remote operated control system and a preliminary description of the autopilot version that was under preparation. You will also find a short video showing the smaller Minecat 140 under flailing tests.

The complete set of system user manuals and technical manuals are also provided as a source of documentation for existing machines an to give a more detailed description of the different features built into the existing system.

Using technology in new projects

The remote control system as it is today can, even though it was initially designed especially for Minecat, easily be adjusted to other kind of machines and control functions. Based on the "off the shelf" hardware modules and software package that exist today, it can easily be converted and integrated with other equipment that has other demands for control. In addition to the features implemented in the Minecat system today, it will be easy to combine functionality from the AUTOflyer project into the new remote control system. Since both systems are based on the same processor technology, it is therefore simple to combine functionality form both system into a new customized product for demanding control functions. On-line plotting of the machines position on a laptop computer or graphic presentation of machine data on standard looking analogue or digital instrumentation is one possibility.

Based on new technology developed for the AUTOflyer project and other remote data acquisition projects, any new systems could also from the beginning be equipped with remote surveillance by GSM-modem connection or by GPRS/EDGE/UMTS internett access. System operators can then have their technical staff access the machine from their home office and investigate motor data and system parameters on-line. They may also command a dump of the built-in solid state "flight recorder" to investigate the operations performed and the machine status prior to an accident or other important incident. The remote access possibility also allows for remote control and installation of program updates without having to remove a single screw on the system. All communication will of course be protected by encryption and passwords.

Brochure on Remote Control System

Brochure on Autopilot System
(PDF-dok. - engelsk tekst)

Video about Minecat 140

Operator Panel User Manual

Minecat 140 User Manual

Minecat 140 Equipment Manual

Minecat 230 User Manual

Minecat 230 Equipment Manual