EXCLUSIVE, BREAKING: iRobot Corp. (NASDAQ:IRBT) has developed a new microbot for military applications -- the paperback-sized iRobot Ember!
This hot new bot, still in the prototype stage, is featured on iRobot's new Facebook page for its PackBot family. As you can tell from the photos iRobot posted on the page, Ember resembles a miniaturized PackBot, complete with iRobot's flipper technology allowing it to right itself and climb over obstacles.
The iRobot Ember was developed under DARPA's LANdroids program, which is intended to create teams of tiny robots for military applications, including, as the name implies, setting up an ad-hoc network of hotspots. The robots are intended to be about 1 pound each, be smart enough to detect and navigate around obstacles and ultimately cheap enough to be considered disposable.
There are, of course, numerous movie precedents for such robots (remember the message carriers in Wonder Woman or the tiny 'bots on the Death Star in Star Wars). One can certainly imagine a time in the not-too-distant future where every soldier will be handed an M-16 and a suitcase with a 3-Pack of Embers (see photo below!). If iRobot can get the cost down to the military's target of $100 -- which I think is a HUGE stretch given that the PackBot is 1,000 times more expensive -- that'd be a hell of a bargain. I know I'd want a few! Other tidbits that could lead to add-on technologies -- the 'bots include USB and SDIO interfaces, so, just like big brother PackBot, this little guys could conceivably have attachments like webcams, microphones, bomb sniffers, etc. plugged in and ready to go. How soon until this tech gets previewed on a show like "24"?
We wrote about iRobot's $2.5 million, three-year contract award to develop the LANdroid last year. Note that several other companies also got awards, so if this becomes a shipping product, iRobot will have competition. But my guess is that iRobot's flipper technology and sophisticated software should give them an edge.
According to iRobot:
Ember is a prototype and was developed under Phase 1 of DARPA’s ongong LANdroids program.Here's the three-pack pic I promised you:
LANdroids Program Goal:
To provide warfighters operating in dense urban environments with tools to deploy and maintain an ad-hoc communication infrastructure.
Ember’s Statistics & Capabilities:
--Approximately one pound
--Unprecedented mobility for vehicles of similar size
--Uses a flipper mechanism for self righting and obstacle climbing
--Accepts USB and SDIO based payload modules, including radios and sensors
One single warfighter will be able to carry and deploy multiple robots:
--Ultimately, these robots will be inexpensive to the point of being disposable
--They will be robust enough to allow the warfighter to drop and throw them into position
--They will be smart enough to detect and avoid obstacles while navigating its environment
Here's also a graphic of the ad hoc network these bots are supposed to provide:
UPDATE: Our friends at Wired have posted the following video of the iRobot Ember in action:
Tags: iRobot, robot, LANdroid, iRobot Ember