LONDON—Without much fanfare, in late August the U.S. Army purchased and deployed hundreds of remote-controlled, 1-lb. “Throwbots” and immediately sent them into combat in Afghanistan—for the first time putting robotics fully in the hands of troops all the way down to the fire team level.
Recon Robotics, the small robot manufacturer which has sold several thousand handheld Recon Scout Throwbots—mostly to police SWAT units—over the past few years, made its biggest sale yet with the Army, selling 385 Throwbot “kits” to the service along with 100 field repair kits in a $5.8 million deal. The kits, which include the Throwbot itself—along with several replacement antennas for the controller, extra wheels for the two-wheeled, self-righting device, a tool to remove defective wheels and a battery recharger—weighs 3 lb. in total and can be easily carried by a soldier in a custom-designed pack.
I stopped by the company’s booth at the DSEi defense trade show in London this week, where Recon’s Jack Klobucar told me that the British Defense Ministry also purchased four Recon Scouts for testing earlier this year. He said the deal with the U.S. Army also included an unspecified number of SearchStick devices, which can be used by soldiers to convert a Throwbot into a pole camera that can extend up to 72 in. long in order to peek over the high compound walls found throughout Afghanistan.
The Throwbot’s titanium shell allows it to be dropped from up to 30 ft. or tossed up to 120 ft., right itself, and begin sending live video back to a user armed with a small controller/tablet.
Another new twist to the bot game comes directly from soldiers in the field: The company has started making a retractable string line (it looks kind of like a large chalk line used in construction) that allows soldiers to lower the bot into culverts under the road to see if insurgents have placed roadside bombs inside. (Since you don’t have to dig a hole in the road, culvert bombs have become a major issue for NATO troops.) Klobucar said that lowering the bot—instead of a soldier sticking his head into the hole, saves grunts from “sticking their faces into the barrel of a shotgun.”
Pic: Recon Robotics