Thursday, June 15, 2006

IRobot Arming Packbots

Robot manufacturer iRobot is negotiating with potential industry partners about jointly developing and offering to the services an armed version of the company's PackBot in response to requests from U.S. troops overseas.

"We're having discussions with some of the major defense industry primes," said retired Vice Adm. Joseph Dyer, iRobot's executive vice president and general manager. "We have strong feelings about how it needs to be done and how professionally it needs to be approached. Both we and the Army have the strongest belief that [there must be] a man in the loop."

Well more than 300 PackBots are deployed overseas, with most involved in scouting and neutralizing improvised explosive devices (IEDs). When a soldier is given a PackBot, one of their first questions typically is, "Can I put my weapon on it?" according to Helen Greiner, iRobot chairman and co-founder.

The company has developed and tested a prototype PackBot equipped with a shotgun that could be used for everything from rendering IEDs inert to blasting open locked doors, depending on the type of ammunition used, Dyer said. The company already has a safety-certified firing circuit for PackBot developed for another variant capable of defusing IEDs by firing a blast of water at their triggering mechanism (DAILY, March 7).

Other candidate weapons could range from automatic weapons all the way up to the Javelin anti-armor missile, according to Greiner. In such a system, the "robot's more like a remote firing system that's not attached to your body," Greiner said.

From Aviation Week.

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