Robotics firm gets $58 million contract


The U.S. Army has awarded a Westminster company a $58 million contract to build a smoke-generating system to conceal the location and movement of troops.

The contract is the largest for Robotic Systems Technology (RST), a 5-year-old company at the Air Business Park, President Scott D. Myers said yesterday.

The company's second largest contract is worth $7 million, he said.

"It will provide a permanent base for us," he said of the new contract.

Eight engineers have been hired for the seven-year project, and the company expects to hire 10 other employees, Mr. Myers said.

RST and its parent company, F&M; Manufacturing Inc., have 105 to 110 employees.

The smoke-generating system will allow troops to be obscured from infrared rays, said Col. George M. Birdsong of the Army's Chemical and Biological Defense Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

It will replace technology developed in World War II, he said.

"Battlefield smoke and obscuration have been used for thousands of years," said Col. Birdsong, who has been project manager for the system.

RST will build the XM56 Motorized Dual Purpose Smoke Generator. The system is mounted on a vehicle similar to a jeep.

A gas turbine produces hot exhaust, which is directed into two sections of the apparatus.

On one side, kerosene is atomized and sprayed on the exhaust to produce smoke that can conceal soldiers from the eye for up to an hour, depending on weather conditions.

On the other side, graphite pellets are sprayed out with the exhaust to produce smoke that can conceal soldiers from infrared rays for up to a half-hour.

In the past, Col. Birdsong said, the Army used pulse jet engines to generate smoke.

The new system is more sophisticated and efficient, he said.

One of the new generators will produce the same amount of smoke as four of the older generators, he said.

RST will begin building 397 of the generators next year, Mr. Myers said. It was the low bidder among about 10 companies vying for the project.

The company has set its sights high from the beginning.

About six months after opening in 1990, the company beat out some of the country's largest defense contractors for a $5 million contract from the Army and Marines to design a robotic spy.

The unmanned all-terrain vehicle was equipped with sensors and cameras and designed to be sent into battle areas on surveillance missions.

RST's other work includes:

* A $6.6 million contract with the Army to develop robotic security vehicles used to patrol military bases and warehouses.

* A $7 million contract with the Postal Service to make certified mail metal detectors.

* Production of a medical therapeutic device for people with circulation problems in their arms or legs. RST designed the device and obtained Food and Drug Administration approval to sell it. The company sells the devices for $1,000 each and ships 500 a month.

Gross sales for F&M; and RST are expected to be $25 million this year, Mr. Myers said, compared with $4.5 million in 1990.

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