Saxon Remote System’s newest offering appears imposing — almost resembling a small tank — but the Tactical Advanced Surveillance Crawler is focused on saving lives.

The producers of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in McPherson is now looking to their crawler as the next offering in their line of unmanned vehicles.

“We are fitting in to a niche market, where there’s not a whole lot of competitors for that size and capability of crawler,” Ferguson said. “It’s designed to be the toolbox and do what you need it to do. We wanted it to have the ability to resupply the front lines autonomously with ammo, food, water, medical supplies, but we didn’t want to just stop with military applications, so we took it a step further.”

The vehicle can serve the civilian sector by taking on potentially dangerous jobs, like perimeter surveillance, pipeline inspections and firefighting. At the front of the vehicle, single and dual manipulator arms can perform tasks, like diffusing improvised explosive devices or opening car doors, or use nearly any type of sensor to collect data.

“What we’re doing now is putting some artificial intelligence in it so it can identify the difference between rabbits, deer, people, vehicles and so on so it can identify those bodies,” Ferguson said. “For certain industries, it can identify if there’s person crawling over the fence and the crawler can go over and set off an alarm or audio warning.”

In firefighting, Ferguson is merging two technologies to create safer circumstances for firefighters and reduce risks.

“I have a patent pending on a fire suppression robot and we have a client that requested that we turn the crawler into an autonomous fire suppression robot. We can put a tank on the back or tow a trailer with a tank that’s filled with a fire suppression chemical to spray on fires. We can also set up the hose into the system and pan and tilt the nozzle to manually reduce the risk of the fire,” Ferguson explained. “Whether its a refinery, forest fire or a large warehouse, if you don’t want to send firemen in there to meet that risk head-on, you can send the robot in to reduce that level of risk and then deploy your fire team. It’s all to reduce that risk.”

At the same time, the technology still requires a human controller’s experience and knowledge of firefighting methods to do the job.

“Anything I ever do is put tools in the toolbox for someone to do their job more safely, cheaply and more efficiently,” Ferguson explained. “I never want to take the work from that person, I want to give them the tool to do their job better.”

To improve ease of use, Ferguson is employing technologies currently used in the drone industry, as well as some new ones.

“In the near future, this vehicle will be able to do gesture recognition. You can give it a hand and arm signal to tell it what to do,” Ferguson said, explaining that many drones in the civilian market already use this technology. “In the far future, we’re working on audio recognition. You could just tell the crawler what to do.”

The crawler partners with other Saxon systems to improve capabilities of each.

“We can launch unmanned aerial vehicles from the crawler. We can also set it up as a relay station,” Ferguson said. “UAV can only go to the end of their leash, their RS signal only goes so far, so we can send this out 20 miles or whatever we need, and relay the RS signal to the aircraft and gain more distance with an unmanned aerial vehicle. It acts as a repeater.”

Right now, the crawler can sustain over 30 hours of constant operations, with plans to improve to 72 hours, and has 600 to 700 pound payload.

The crawler also has amphibious properties so it can move through water or mud to reach its destination, without damaging equipment inside.

Ferguson displayed Saxon technology at the InterDrone 2017 convention in Las Vegas this month.

“With our mobile command center, aircraft and now the crawler, we always have people surrounding our booth. This is our second year in a row, I don’t know what I’ll do next year, I’m running out of cool toys,” Ferguson laughed. “People were waiting hours to talk to me about our equipment because they’re amazed and see the vision and where we’re going.”

Ferguson and other unmanned systems producers still face the challenge of educating consumers about brand-new technology.

“We build robots to mitigate risk for people and help save lives. Unfortunately, nefarious people can get technology and harm people, just like how you can use a Tesla car to ram a crowd of people,” Ferguson said.

By reaching out to clients around the world, Ferguson brings the spotlight to McPherson.

“I’ve done my part for McPherson and I’m not done. I’ve brought coffee roasting, subsea technology, unmanned aerial vehicles and now I’m bringing tactical crawlers to McPherson,” Ferguson said. “I’m all in when it comes to Kansas and McPherson. My goal is to be an active participant in our community and build it in a good way. But also, my goal is to provide security for McPherson. We want to keep people with nefarious intent out, and my equipment can do that in conjunction with law enforcement.”