Consider the possibilities of the Pentagon deploying swarms of robots to the battlefield, while fielding fewer human operators and sucking up less bandwidth than the current, one operator/one robot system does. The folks at iRobot are working to make it reality.
iRobot’s COO Joe Dyer says that the company is working on both autonomy and waypoint “point and click” capabilities for their robots, meaning that a single operator could direct multiple robots to single or multiple points from a safe distance, while the bots would lay cyber-breadcrumbs along their path so the operator would know where they had been.
The company recently unveiled both a new throwable ‘bot and an upgraded software package for its workhorse PackBot robot, both of which should be able to operate semi-autonomously in the near future. The PackBot upgrades can be uploaded to the robot simply by plugging in a new “box” with the software installed. New upgrades include a self-righting function; mesh networking capabilities; and the ability to expand on the 14 preset positions the PackBot is capable of starting from, giving users the ability to make up their own preset positions and store them into the system.
Then there’s the “FirstLook,” the 5 lb. throwable robot that the company introduced earlier this year. IRobot faces some tough competition in the small, throwable robot market from Recon Robotics, who has already delivered more than 700 XT Throwbots to the U.S. military—cashing in over $10 million in contracts over the past two months alone for the 1.2 lb. throwbot.
Still, FirstLook has been designed to survive a 15 foot drop onto concrete and operate for up to six hours without a charge, and spend 10 hours shooting streaming video while stationary. Asked why the Army should buy the 5 lb. FirstLook instead of the 1.2 lb. Throwbot, whose titanium shell allows it to be dropped from up to 30 ft. or tossed up to 120 ft., and which is capable of sending live video back to a user armed with a small controller/tablet; iRobot’s Dyer extolled the virtues of his product, explaining that its software package is upgradeable, giving it a long service life, and citing the company’s long experience in the field.
Whether you prefer the Throwbot or FirstLook, one thing is for certain: the small robot wars have begun.