Integrated remote-control technology to be manufactured in Maine

By Ramona du Houx

August 31, 2010
Imagine being on active duty assigned to keep highways clear of insurgents. You’re in a convoy, it’s hot, it’s tense. Your ears start ringing from a blast that rocks your vehicle, you look ahead – the Humvee in front of you is gone. All that you can see is billowing black smoke.

It happens— all too often. But that could change with new technology that may be deployed with troops. A technology created here in Maine at Bolduc Technology Group, in Augusta.

“Enemies today don’t care about the vehicle—they care about hurting us. To have an unmanned vehicle out front, as point, will save lives,” said Scott Bolduc, President and CEO of Bolduc Technology group. “Now we can go from driving with factory controls to autonomous operation in about fifteen seconds. So, if you are in a convoy and something happens to the point vehicle a soldier could bring his vehicle to the front of the line, get out, turn on a switch and pull a lever, and that could become the new point vehicle.”

In August, Bolduc signed an agreement with Boeing Defense, Space & Security to integrate their unique ‘drive-by-wire’ technology into military ground vehicles, like Humvee’s. Bolduc’s Advanced Electronic Vehicle Interface Technology, AEVIT, is considered the best in the world. It is the only patented ‘drive-by-wire’ system— on the market.

“We’ve lost too many lives because of IED explosions on convoys. To be able to have the ability to make vehicles that keep our men and women out of harms way is fantastic,” said Governor John Baldacci. “This new partnership speaks to the world-class technology and workforce that exists right here. Scott’s providing good jobs and using other Maine businesses to support his work. It’s a great day for Maine, and our country.”

The autonomously operated vehicles could help with convoys, perimeter security and reconnaissance missions.

Since 1986, thousands of AEVIT systems have been installed in the vehicles for people with disabilities. Since 1994, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Department of Defense’s research office, has used Bolduc technology. The Bolduc brand is well known.

“AEVIT is the same system Bolduc has successfully used for over twenty years, with software modifications and additional features that allow it to be operated either in tele-op mode or through autonomous controls—in other words someone sitting five miles away or in a pre-programmed mode. Boeing will provide that intelligence software,” said Ted McCarthy, Chief Operating Officer at Bolduc.

If the military is impressed with the new applications of AEVIT with Boeing’s software, more jobs could come to Maine. The next test will be at a robotics rodeo, where exhibitors take their vehicles through their paces, with military experts watching.

“Hopefully they will like it,” said Peggy Berry, director of Boeing’s networks and tactical systems division, who flew in from California to sign the agreement. “Bolduc has been selling their ‘drive by wire’ technology for years. We wanted to work with proven technology. Bolduc is the furthest along in this technology in the world. This is the very beginning for us. We hope to do a lot with this technology.”

Bolduc said it is a natural evolution of the AEVIT system, and couldn’t be more pleased that his technology will be used to save lives.

“With this new relationship we now have a navigation system from Boeing that will update at sixty thousand times per minute. We remain in control, on the ground. They add the GPS software,” said Bolduc. “It’s absolutely a great partnership.”

On the factory floor where AEVIT systems are produced a team of workers diligently and with total focus assemble the systems. The atmosphere is calm, collegiate and employees are conscientious that the product they produce has to be perfect, every time. People drive daily with their AEVIT systems, so quality control is huge.

“I handle quality control and some production. It’s very challenging,” said Fred Saban who worked in Auburn before being hired seven months ago. “We have to get it right, each and every time.”

Bolduc Technology Group began in Auburn, Maine, twenty years ago to help people with disabilities REGAIN their mobility through the development of “drive-by-wire” technology. A close friend of Bolduc’s was involved in a motorcycle accident, which paralyzed him. But he relocated his company to Louisiana.

Last January the company returned to Maine for the skilled workforce and to take advantage of the Governor’s Pine Tree Zone program, which gives businesses incentives with tax breaks.

“I was surprised from the caliber of applicants we could choose from; it was way beyond my expectations. I’m very proud of the sixteen staff we hired and how far they have come in just seven months,” said Phil Nuza, plant manager, who moved with the company to Maine last winter.

Pine Tree Zones spur growth in targeted business sectors, creating quality jobs and strengthening Maine’s ability to grow in the global economy. In 2007 areas of clustered dynamic growth were identified in the state and grants supporting businesses, research partnerships, and start-ups were added to Maine Technology Institute award program supporting new technologies and innovation.

“The state of Maine has the best people anywhere; they need to appreciate that truth. We just level the playing field so they can compete with anyone anywhere,” said the Governor. “And that opportunity jobs will continue to come here.”

Phil Koon, Boeing’s chief engineer for networks and tactical systems and robotics said he was impressed with Bolduc.

“There are some great technical people here, and they produce a great product. So far, they’ve been traffic to work with,” said Koon, who designed NASA projects. The vehicle equipped with the joint technology, he calls a robot, will also have hidden cameras. The images taken remotely will be downloaded and stitched together to give a full view of the area helping soldiers get a better view of their surroundings.

“All this technology is similar to work I did with NASA. I would love to have my robot taken out instead of a manned Humvee. That’s the goal,” he said.