Small military robots gain advanced “sight” for more challenging roles

Intelligent robot vendor iRobot this week licensed Laser Radar or Ladar technology for use in its line of military robots, a move that could result in a new line of machines that can see and operate more effectively in dangerous situations.  Such small, advanced robots could be deployed in less than a year, experts said.  

Specifically the robot-maker is licensing Advanced Scientific Concepts' 3-D flash Ladar which uses laser beams to scan and process targets. The system has the ability to create a virtual 3D picture of an entire area.  

"It's one of the holy grails of robotics to be able to do that," William Thomasmeyer, president of the Pittsburgh-based National Center for Defense Robotics, a federally funded consortium of companies, universities, and government labs told the Christian Science Monitor. "It's like the smaller robots have been trying to navigate with one arm tied behind their back when compared to larger robots.... [Now] that hand becomes untied for smaller robots, and they've got the same advantages in terms of sensors and sensing as larger robots do."  

IRobot, which is also taking an minority ownership stake in ASC, believes the technology will provide new navigation and mapping capabilities for future generations of robots and unmanned ground vehicles and pave the way for autonomous vehicles to lead convoys into dangerous territory, search contaminated buildings for casualties, or enable bomb squads to safely investigate suspicious objects, according to the Web site Xcomony.com.  

In related news iRobot this week said the US Army has accelerated its testing schedules for iRobot’s Future Combat Systems Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV) robot development program. The updated plan calls for iRobot to deliver a total of 25 SUGV robots by April 2008. The Army Evaluation Task Force will begin evaluation and testing of the robots in May 2008.

This effort is intended to provide an early capability of SUGV to soldiers in the field. The initial soldier evaluations will determine the capabilities and limitations of the SUGV platform. These evaluations will support the Army’s production decision, which is expected in September 2008, IRobot said in a statement. 

IRobot makes the popular Roomba vacuuming robot and the iRobot Verro Pool Cleaning machine.

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