RC Car Hack Saves Lives In War Zone

R.I.P sand-colored radio-controlled truck. Your life ended with a bang and in doing so, saved some lives. This little work-horse is a hack that [Ernie Fessenden] put together and sent to his brother [Sergeant Chris Fessenden] who is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

[Chris’] team is trained to be on the lookout for roadside bombs, but [Ernie] wanted to sent him something cool that could also keep him safe. By adding a camera to the hood of the Traxxis Stampede and using a gun-mountable LCD screen, the soldiers now have a way to see what’s on the road ahead from their armored Humvee. Sounds like it would work just fine right? Well the hack just got a big endorsement when it tripped an IED made of around 500 pounds of explosives. [Chris] and five other soldiers on patrol were unharmed in the event, and [Ernie] already has a replacement model on the way.

[Thanks Rioexxo and Alex]

More proof that battlefield hacks deserve a place next to some of the high-ticket items you’d usually associate with weapons of war.

59 thoughts on “RC Car Hack Saves Lives In War Zone

    1. someone not “in” on the brand names can be misled to typo by the reporting article, which misspells it as “traxis”.

      RC cars are fun, none of my own but watch then frequently at a friend’s hobby shop/

  1. not banging on this i love the idea and im glad thye did it but im just curious … is glueing 2 things togeather really a hack?
    you are taking somthing for one purpose and makign it do another but this is manically nothing more than someone attaching 2 things designed to do one thing and there still doing there original purpose (more or less the RC car still moves as it should and the camera still transmits video as it should)

    1. With a bit of ingenuity and a toy car, they came up with a life saving piece of equipment. Making something out of nothing is the spirit of the word “hack”. I say this qualifys. Besides, its a neat story that I may not have heard about if it were not posted on hack a day, keep stuff like this coming!

    2. That depends on your definition of the word ‘hack’. I personally think that a few too many people here focus on how easy or hard something is to build. If a build isn’t particularly challenging, then it doesn’t ‘deserve’ to be called a hack. I think that you guys miss the point. Hacking is as much about the problem to be solved as it is about the solution.

      As soon as anything is used for a purpose that it wasn’t designed for, then that’s a hack in my book. Even attaching a wireless camera to a camouflaged rc truck is a hack. It works! Where some hacks are criticised for being unnecessarily complex, this one is criticised for being too simple.

      If you don’t like an article, just stfu and move on to the next one. Don’t be a troll. Or better still, build something worthy of this website.

      1. @Fogger

        I agree 100%. This is a hack. They took 2 ‘toys’ and combined them to create a life saving item. The fact that this ‘hack is sufficiently simple that almost anyone could do it in a weekend is just a bonus, not a downside.

        hack-a-day appeals to all sorts of people, if an article is too simple for you, move on. If it’s too complex, again, move on (or at least you have a challenge :D)

    1. They most certainly do, from a lot of different companies. I used to work for one that built essentially this exact smae thing, just more ruggedized and a shit-load more expensive. It is/was called Dragon Runner and the original company name was Automatika, though they got bought up by Qinetiq. iRobot also makes one, along with Foster-Miller, Prioria, etc. The big difference between the hack above (which imho is spot on) and the $20-50k+ robots are range, frequency of operation (better if your rc isn’t using the same frequency as the detonator…) and ruggedness. The Dragon Runner can be thrown through upper floor windows or out of the back of a truck going 30mph. It bounces a few times and then takes off running. Oh yeah, it’s invertible so if you tip over it doesn’t care at all.

      1. I do think it’s funny that mil-spec things tend to add a multiplier to the price, when something made as a disposable consumer product ends up being cheaper in the long run, even over multiple replacements.

        I guess racing to the bottom on price isn’t bad all the time.

  2. This is a really cool article. It kinda sucks for the soldier though. Apparently this car was really good at doing when it was sent for, he used it to find 4 IEDs. Then he lent it to a friend, and the friend bows it up (accidentally though). Hopefully this will help them raise money to send more though.

    side note: the RC cars are allowed to go faster than the actual vehicles the soldiers use when patrolling, which makes the RC car a really good tool.

    1. I have a similar model (a rustler xl) the battery lasts for about 40 minutes of HARD running at high speeds 50 to 60 mph battery charge time is just a few minutes more than that. The model charger I have will also use a 12v source and charge just as fast. If you use a more conservative gearing I’m sure you could get much longer time.

    2. why not use a solar panel to keep the batts charged? if not that i totally agree with the gas engine, but that would in turn make itself into a bomb as well, not good. great hack though, saved lives and did its job. now if only the military could throw away 500million on building one out of solid gold and make it run on plutonium. imho they should just do exactly what ernie did. its cheaper and easier to replace.

      1. My experience with nitro is that it would take more time to do maintenance, you could just charge a 2nd/3rd battery in the humvee via a 12v port. the batteries could be a destructive force as well if needed. Just search “lipo damage” there are some entertaining videos!

  3. However you look at it, how many of these little lifesaving hacks could be built for the cost of one DARPA IED-sniffing robot?

    Even if you don’t include a camera, even the cheapest motorised toy car (rc or not) could go on an unmanned kamikaze mission to set off an IED or landmine, maybe use a quadcopter to search for the devices and dispatch the cheap little Chinese-made lifesavers.

  4. See? Not EVERYTHING the military does has to cost over $500k! Wait – this was an independent hack?
    Seems to beat the hell out of either spending big $$$ for the iRobot milbot (only to replace it if it blows up) or losing lives. At a total cost (including shipping) well under $500 these could even be considered disposable (by military standards).
    What would it take to get something like this into the front of every caravan?

  5. Caravan? We’re talking about something Toys’r’us sells for under 10 bucks, each vehicle should have a box of these ready to go.

    Even Brookstone has a quadcopter for $200 bucks, if it can be made that cheap, then why are we putting soldiers at risk and saying we don’t have the money?

    Something that’s intended to run for a minute and get blown up doesn’t need to cost half a million, especially when the same technology is available at almost any yard sale for under a buck.

    1. Actually, there’s a serious problem with your suggestion. If the US troops were to abandon hundreds of malfunctioning RC toys, that’s hundreds of RF trigger mechanisms they could be delivering to the insurgents. Better to have one good one they take care to return than a hundred disposables.

      Besides, this RC car is a lot more capable than a $50 Toys’r’Us special. It sustains real speeds of 50MPH or more and lasts half an hour, whereas most of those toy cars don’t hit 20MPH and have to be recharged after about 10 minutes of play time.

    1. it would be cool if you could program one of these to just stay at a forward proximity of lets say X amount of yards in front of the vehicle or soldier.. maybe an rf tag or something.. and every foot soldier had one..

  6. This makes me happy, but yes i agree with t&p, the army should have loads of them just to test for bombs and such, would save many lives. a cheap disposable thing to see if it will explode on touch, although they may require a heavy mass ontop of them to trigger.

    1. You missed that this had found several other IEDs previous to actually tripping one. Knowledge that the IED is there almost completely negates the threat.
      Besides, that would still make simple trip wires ineffective. Increasing the required complexity for an attack decreases the number of individuals with both the motivation and capacity to pull off an attack – a small victory for our troops.

  7. i would just stick a tall antenna/clotheshanger or something on subsequent models incase they start raising the tripwires or something. oh, and filling a few of them with C4 just to mix things up a bit.

  8. Pretty sad that the government has not caught on to simple things like this that can save lives. A trip to any electronics store / retail store has probably a hundred or so consumer devices that could be used in war to save lives.

    1. Actually, most of the time, they do. Most of the time they’re too much trouble to move/disarm/get it the f*&^ out of the way. Easier to detonate where they are, then bulldoze over the crater.

  9. Nice story :) Cost is minimal so I’m sure the guy wont have any problems getting another one shipped over to his brother. Hell, he could just go into any local bar, talk about the story and I’m sure he’d instantly get donations to send 5 of the buggers over to him!

  10. I can imagine the uproar if anything that the military decided to do on the cheap,ever cost the lives of soldiers. Not that I’m saying we aren’t, paying more than we need to, but civilians could be the biggest factor there. This simple technology can be defeated by equally simple technology. Simple RC,can be defeated simply by a wide band dead carrier.

    1. Hey I went to that link and couldn’t anything about how to send more R/C trucks to the troops. I would like to send a bunch with cameras built in. I have some great ideas so let me know man.

  11. As far as cost goes, here’s an idea. Bring all the troops home, and you won’t have to worry about troops being blown up in some POS third world country! And it won’t cost anything!!!!!

  12. 500 Lb of presumably high explosives, I don’t think you’ll even be safe in a Main Battle Tank.
    Good to see stability and prosperity finally taking hold in Afghanistan ten years on.

  13. 500 LB of high explosives, would have taken out the truck and everything for about 160 yards. There is a reason you don’t want to detonate those things…its not just you that you have to think about out there. Imagine what the story would have been if it took out 5 civilians.

    Now with that being said i am glad that it protected those guys.

  14. Interesting idea, kudos to the soldier who came up with this.

    A useful device to have around is a “RF device detector” aka “grid dip oscillator” that looks for common RF frequencies used in IEDs and alerts the operator that one may be nearby.
    The common frequencies for R/C cars, door radar detectors and WiFi would be a good starting point as these parts are often used for them according to Google.

    Only problem is that some of the terrorists are probably getting wise to the common detection methods and finding workarounds.. email anarchy2012 at hotmail.co.uk for a list, who knows maybe I can save some lives with my knowledge.

  15. the crazyest thing about this hack is the fact that they had to hack something like this!
    if i was a ground soldier i’d want one of these with every MRE!

    i’d imagine that being in a warzone makes you verry good at inventing ways of staying alive long enough to get home.

    IEDs are also an example of the recourcefullness of people who want to stay alive, to make IEDs all you need is somebody atacking you. go out and look for unexploded shells, salvage a battery from a shot up car, some cables from bombed buildings. mcgyver yourself some dettonators, and away you go. extra points for radiocontrol, antihandling devices and cunning placement. the hard part is you have to do all this without an internet conection, or decent tools, under cerfew. all this without ever having studied engineering. and if your’e lucky there will be a guy with an afgan accent doing a workshop at the local hackerspace.

    whilst this is rc car *is* a neat hack, i think that the *hackers* on the other side are working in harder conditions and we should apreciate that too, even if they are the *bad guys*

  16. Just out of curiosity; would hackaday publish hacks by afghan insurgents?
    (I myself would be in favor of it, even when there is 0.0001% change anything would be submitted.)

  17. IMHO publishing hacks deemed to be supporting terrorism in any way would be in extremely bad taste, same as if they published something like “how to make drugs” .. etc.

    That said, publishing the prison hacks article was interesting and well balanced, and in no way supported or condoned the fact that they were breaking the rules.
    I especially liked the Facebook update via Morse Code hack, that was pure genius.

    Hackaday needs to be careful not to publish anything which is blatantly unsafe without disclaimers at least, case in point the laser lighter.

    1. We won’t of course start a tired old political discussion, or worse – fight, but uhm, a person in another country fighting foreigners who are perceived as unwelcome invaders (wright or wrong) is not a ‘terrorist’, and there is a reason why the US army uses various terms like ‘insurgent’ and ‘taliban’ and ‘terrorist’, since they are three different things, they do not actually use them interchangeable in official documents/reports/statements, if they say insurgent they speak of a native who fights against them but is not taliban, and if they for instance speak about a suicide bomber from saudi arabia who travels to iraq to blow up things then it’s a ‘terrorist’.
      That the US does make such distinctions is actually something I respect and appreciate.

      And hackaday already featured a thing about the hacks by insurgents in libya, albeit with a stated caveat.
      I like that they are old style freedom of speech in some regards, there’s way too much self-censorship these days and in the end that isn’t helping at all, and it’s pointless to censor things that are widely available and known.

  18. Wow. I live in Rochester, MN and have actually talked to and bought things from the owner of that hobby shop. Really nice guy, and I was amazed when I found out it was him and a buddy. Those RC cars are quite the bang for your buck though, not surprised that they picked them. That model has tons of clearance/suspension for rough terrain, and does 50mph easy. Really pretty amazing that these aren’t in front of every humvee over there :/

  19. epic win. i’ve wondered why the military doesn’t do this for a long time. sure it’s not a secure video feed or anything like that, but for most applications does it matter? the fancy, pricey military bots have their place, but so do these!

  20. Imagine the the number of lives that would be spared if every group in a battle field had a radio control vehicle whether it be a car, truck, or even airplane to scout out potential dangers. The government and most police departments already employ radio control robots with cameras to deal with bombs and such. And some are even equipted with weapons. But at an extraordinary price. These Radio Control vehicles cost pennies in comparison. I like this idea.

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