Unmanned vehicles: Overview

Robotics is now at a point where its scope is dramatically expanding. 21st century robot machines will be used in all areas of modern life in the form of surgical devices, machines to explore space and conduct hazardous tasks on earth, robot assistants at home or work place, etc.

Robots are known to save costs, to improve quality and working conditions, and to minimise resources and waste, but to accelerate their general deployment, one of the major challenges to be solved will be the design of robotic systems able to perform complex tasks during long periods without external supply of energy. Fuel cells can play an important role in this achievement and, in fact, the European Robotic Technology Platform includes this technology in its Strategic Research Agenda as a technological challenge for the robotic development in Europe. Such document considers fuel cells as an option for enabling long-term robot operation.

This requirement is more critical in some robotic applications, like mapping inspection and exploration in hazardous or restricted areas, security applications (i.e. site protection and reconnaissance), surveillance and monitoring, etc., where mobile robots with a high degree of complex sensors are used, and long range missions are desirable. Batteries used currently present limitations in terms of power and energy when such energy is used for propulsion and sensors/auxiliary equipment loads. Suitable hybrid power systems based on batteries and fuel cells, including hydrogen storage and, in some particular cases such as UUV (unmanned underwater vehicles), also oxidant storage, could offer a technically feasible alternative in a great potential market.