Army, Pentagon seek small, "throwable" robots
September 30, 2011
The U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps and the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat
Organization (JEIDDO) are working to procure and deliver thousands of small,
easily transportable "throwable" robots equipped with surveillance cameras
designed to beam back video from confined spaces, buildings, tunnels and
other potentially dangerous locations, service officials said.
"These robots can provide dismounted troops that extra bit of stand-off
distance," said USMC Lt. Col. Dave Thompson, Project Manager, Robotic
Systems Joint Project Office (RS JPO).
JEIDDO is in the process of responding to a Joint Urgent Operational Needs
Statement (JUONS) for an ultra-light recon robot capability to support
dismounted operations in Afghanistan; Combatant Commanders are looking to
receive an initial delivery of about 4,000 of the small robots, some of
which are engineered to be thrown through a second-story window to provide
"eyes" on a potentially hazardous combat situation, said Mathew Way, program
integrator for Mitigate and Neutralize, JIEDDO.
After finishing up a market survey of what commercially-available
technologies might be able to meet the needs of the JUONS - and quickly
conducting testing on numerous small robots designed to establish
quantitative data with the National Institute for Standards and Technology
-- JIEDDO chose three lightweight, "throwable" robots to run through a
series of combat-assessments in Afghanistan. The systems chosen are
iRobot's 110 First Look robot, MacroUSA's Armadillo V2 Micro Unmanned
Ground Vehicle (MUGV) and QinetiQ North America's Dragon Runner .
About 50 of each of these robots will be deployed with forces in different
parts of Afghanistan in order to assess the capability of the "throwbots" to
perform across different types of combat terrain. The bots will be placed
with Infantry, Engineering and Explosive Ordnance Disposal units, among
others, Way said.
"What we are going to try to do is give a sampling of every type of system
down range across different regions of Afghanistan. More than likely there
will be more than one system needed to answer this JUONS," said Way.
This theater assessment in Afghanistan, called an "OCONUS" trail, is aimed
at informing development of requirements regarding the tasks the systems
will be needed to perform.
"This OCONUS trial will give us the Soldier feedback that we need. This will
allow us to go to industry and tell them what we want. JIEDDO can then use
those precise requirements to support a rapid open competition to then field
the final solution or solutions to fulfill the Warfighter need," said Way.
At the same time, the Army-led RS JPO is coordinating efforts across the DoD
and also working on developing, purchasing and deploying several of the
small, mobile "throwable" robots such as iRobot's First Look and the Recon
Robotics Recon Scout XT Throwbot.
"This is an area of joint interest. JIEDDO has a large part of this, as does
the Army's Rapid Equipping Force (REF) and the Marine Corps. We are all
looking at similar systems. RS JPO is trying to do some coordination between
all of these organizations and see if we can look at the systems that are
out there, look at the requirements, and start to posture ourselves for the
sustainment and the maintenance of these systems in the long term," said
The anticipated value of the "throwbots" is in part driven by the frequency
of dismounted small unit and squad patrols in Afghanistan wherein Soldiers
and Marines routinely check areas for IEDs and insurgent activity, Thompson
At the moment many units use the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle 320, a small
tactical robot equipped with video reconnaissance technology that is 32
pounds; there is a need for something that is lighter, more easily
transportable by dismounted units on the move and able to be "thrown" into
forward locations such as buildings and caves, Way and Thompson said.
The Recon Scout XT Throwbot, for instance, is only 1.2 pounds; it is
designed to withstand a 30-foot vertical drop and provide "eyes" or
forward-positioned cameras able to capture images from dangerous locations.
It is a small, barbell-shaped robot with wheels at each end of a titanium
tube along with a camera, antenna and illuminator. The Recon Scout also
includes an operator control unit with a small viewing screen and joystick.
The Recon Scout is currently being acquired by the Army's REF.
"The Recon Robot XT responds to the soldiers' need to see where they're
going before they get there. With this throwbot capability, warfighters
gain situational awareness of an area, thus mitigating risks and
casualties," a REF spokesperson said.
QinetiQ's Dragon Runner, originally developed for the Marine Corps, weighs
about 14-pounds and includes cameras, motion-detectors and an optional small
manipulator arm able lift about 10-pounds.
iRobot's First Look is about 10-inches long and weighs less than five
pounds; it has four built-in cameras facing different directions and is
engineered to withstand a 15-foot drop. It is waterproof up to three feet
and is designed to climb steps as high as eight inches. The robot is
configured like a miniature model of the well-known and widely used PackBot
robot. The First Look's sensor payload includes cameras, thermal imagers and
chem-bio radiation sensors.
The Armadillo V2 is also about 5-pounds. It has four small wheels, is built
to withstand eight-meter "throws" and also includes multiple cameras and