March 4, 2010

Military tanks on the move


— By . KIM

click image to enlarge

Staff Photo by John Ewing, Friday, August 27, 2004: Twin brothers Michael (left) and Geoffrey Howe, of North Berwick, have developed a vehicle they call "Rip Saw" which they hope to enter into the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge competition. Inventors make autonomous robotic vehicles to travel across the Nevada Desert. The Howes are Maine's only participants in the event.

Staff Writer

Howe & Howe Technologies, which makes unmanned tanks and other rugged speciality vehicles, is moving to larger quarters in Waterboro.

The company founded by twin brothers Mike and Geoffrey Howe is outgrowing its space in Eliot as it moves into production. The business is now in 8,000 square feet spread out over four units in a business park.

In the coming weeks, the company will move to a 50,000-square-foot facility on 9 acres, which will allow for on-site testing of the vehicles.

''Right now, we are literally building vehicles on top of vehicles,'' Geoffrey Howe said Monday.

The brothers, graduates of the Kents Hill School in central Maine, started building and designing the Ripsaw -- the company's best-known vehicle -- around 2000. The unmanned tank can travel over difficult terrain as fast as 60 mph. An operator with a joystick directs the vehicle from a remote location.

Nearly $4 million for research and development has gone into the Ripsaw, through the defense appropriations process, said the office of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees. Another $2.5 million for the Ripsaw is in a Senate bill that is still pending.

The Ripsaw isn't in use on the battlefield. It is undergoing lengthy testing by the military, which will choose from versions offered by various companies.

''There's other, larger companies in the playing field with their variation of unmanned ground vehicles. There's probably, right now, between five and 10 major vehicles that are viable for basically one spot or one or two spots,'' Geoffrey Howe said. ''We've done pretty well, for the size and money we have.''

Howe & Howe has also developed and built vehicles that are not for military use. One vehicle is in the works for Hollywood, but Geoffrey Howe said he is not at liberty to talk about the details.

The company will make a marketing push this year for the Badger, a small armored tank for SWAT teams. It has already delivered two of its Subterranean Rovers to a mining company, it's working on three more and plans to build another 16.

The company's growth means that its work force now fluctuates between 10 and 20, depending on contracts. Currently, the company has 15 employees, including three new hires.

The company searched for a new location for more than a year before deciding on the space on Route 202, used previously by Architectural Glazing Technologies.

''We want to stay in the hub of southern Maine,'' Geoffrey Howe said. ''We're Mainers at heart.''

The new location provides a ''moderate amount'' of testing capacity, he said.

Until now, the company has had to bring vehicles, by trailer, to a gravel pit it owns in Lebanon. Each trip costs the company $500 to $600. Extreme testing will continue in Lebanon.

Waterboro Town Planner Tom Ursia said the effort to draw Howe & Howe began in April. The company was attractive for the town because it is a stable business, it has the potential to draw ancillary businesses, and its founders' patriotism matches that of the town.

The space, which Howe & Howe intends to lease initially, is an important location for the town, Ursia said.

''They're going to occupy probably our key signature building on (Route) 202,'' he said. ''That's where we see our major growth corridor, from now forward.''

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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