U.S military to field-test “throwable” robots in Afghanistan

Throwbots: a whole new recon capability

Robots are a perfect tool to give soldiers in the field “eyes” on a potentially hazardous situation without placing themselves in harm’s way. With soldiers often operating in difficult terrain or entering buildings, the easiest way to get such robots into place is usually to throw them. Currently, many units use a small tactical robot called the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle 320 which is equipped with video reconnaissance technology. However, this robot weighs a not very pack-friendly 32 pounds (14.5 kg), so the call has been put out for a lighter robot that is more easily transportable by dismounted units on the move and is able to be thrown into forward locations such as buildings and caves. To this end, the U.S. military is set to put three different types of lightweight, “throwable” robots through a series of combat assessments in Afghanistan.

In response to a joint urgent operational needs statement (JUONS) calling for an ultra-light recon robot to support dismounted operations in Afghanistan, the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEIDDO) are working to procure and deliver thousands of small, easily transportable “throwable” robots. These robots are to be equipped with surveillance cameras designed to beam back video from confined spaces, buildings, tunnels and other potentially dangerous locations.

After conducting a survey of commercially-available technologies and performing quick tests on numerous small robots, JIEDDO chose three lightweight, throwable robots for a series of combat assessments in Afghanistan: iRobot’s 110 First Look robot, MacroUSA’s Armadillo V2 Micro Unmanned Ground Vehicle, and QinetiQ North America’s Dragon Runner.

Described as ideal for a range of infantry missions and special operation, including building clearing, raids and other close-in scenarios, First Look is designed to provide persistent observation and investigation of confined spaces. It weighs five pounds (2.3 kg) and is 10 inches (25 cm) long, 9 inches (23 cm) wide and 4 inches (10 cm) tall, meaning it is small enough to be stored in a soldier’s standard load-out. The throwable robot is also built to survive 15-foot (4.6 m) drops onto concrete and is waterproof to 3 feet (0.9 m).

Once on the ground it can right itself when flipped over, climb steps up to 8 inches (20 cm) high, overcome curbs and other obstacles, turn in place and travel at speeds of up to 3.4 mph (5.5 km/h). On a typical mission it will get six hours of runtime, extending up to 10 hours when performing stationary video monitoring. It has four built-in cameras facing different directions and also features infrared illumination for low light and no light operations. First Look is configured like a miniature model of iRobot’s PackBot robot and has a sensor payload including cameras, thermal imagers and chem-bio radiation sensors.

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