The next time you see TV footage of the Irish Defence Forces dealing with a suspicious device at home in Ireland or in the Golan Heights, they will most likely be using equipment designed and manufactured in Tralee, by Irish company Reamda.
Reamda, which is an acronym for Robotic Electronic And Mechanical Development Agency’, was established by Padraig O’Connor in 2001, and since then has specialised in supplying military and engineering products to customers in both domestic and international markets. In particular, the company addresses the highly specialised field of robots for use in extremely hazardous situations, such as dealing with improvised explosive devices (IED) or evidence-gathering following a suspected chemical weapons attack.
“Padraig O’Connor had worked with a robotics company in Cork during the 1990s and when that company left Ireland he decided to set up Reamda,” explains R&D director, Julie Behan. “Our main customer is the Irish Defence Forces. When we started working with them, they were using HOBO robots to deal with suspicious devices. These were originally built in the 1970s and we got the contract to upgrade them to digital electronics.”
In 2012, the company won the contract to upgrade the mechanical aspects of the Defence Forces robots and this resulted in the development of the Reacher, Reamda’s latest robot. This highly versatile robot features a sliding turret and a low-profile arm, which can be manipulated into numerous positions, including over obstacles, below ground, and under vehicles.
Enterprise Ireland support derisked Reamda innovation project
Enterprise Ireland support was instrumental to the company’s success in winning that contract, according to Behan. “Over the years, we have received support from Enterprise Ireland in the form of Innovation Vouchers and an R&D grant,” she says. “The Innovation Vouchers allowed us to work on some small projects with the Institute of Technology Tralee. This resulted in us developing a relationship and we are now working with them in partnership on larger projects. We hadn’t made bigger platforms ourselves before winning this latest contract and the Enterprise Ireland support derisked the project. It allowed us to engage in the mechanical side of the robot and to spend the time and effort on its design and development.”
The new Reacher robot can be remote-controlled from up to 1 kilometre, with human operators shielded from harm. It also comes with a number of accessories and special features, one of which is a two-way drawer which can be used to house another Reamda device – the Remote Disruptor Robot (RDP).
“The Reacher has a payload bay which can carry a marsupial RDP robot and other tools and equipment,” says Behan. “The RDP was originally developed as an accessory to Hobo. It can go under vehicles to look for and disarm suspicious devices. It has a disruptor weapon on board which destroys the electronics in the device without detonating it.”
The Reacher is also armed with a disruptor and can carry sensors and forensic evidence-gathering tools into the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack. “We have been involved in a Horizon 2020 research project on forensic evidence-gathering using a robot platform,” Behan adds.
The company currently employs 20 staff, split roughly evenly between manufacturing and mechanical, electrical and software engineers involved in R&D. “Our main market has been the Irish Defence Forces up until now and we have been exporting through a channel partner in the UK who sells products around the world. We have also been exporting control systems to other robot manufacturers for the past 10 years. We will start looking in earnest for export markets for the Reacher once the Irish Defence Forces order has been delivered.”