ReconRobotics already has 3,700 of its throwable, camera-equipped robots in use in 30 countries around the world, but none has the capability that the company unveiled in June: a microphone so users can hear what’s going on once the robot is tossed into a building or over a wall.
The microphone added no weight to the 1.6-pound Throwbot XT, said Ernest Langdon, the company’s director of U.S. military programs, although it did require some internal rewiring. The enhancements don’t come at the expense of any of the bot’s other capabilities, such as speed, range or the ability to withstand repeated 30-foot drops and 120-foot tosses.
Company President Alan Bignall said the audio version of the Throwbot, which also has a new infrared sensor installed next to the microphone that can illuminate up to 25 feet, will cost a few hundred dollars more than the current $13,000 system. The entire package, which consists of the Throwbot plus the wireless controller-video screen, weighs slightly more than 3 pounds.
The company said it is demonstrating the new capabilities to the U.S. military.
The Throwbot XT — sans microphone and infrared sensor — is fighting it out with three other small robots in a series of operational assessments taking place in Afghanistan, vying for a contract for several thousand systems that will be rapidly fielded once the evaluation is complete. The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization said earlier this year it would send 400 small robots to Afghanistan — 100 from each competitor — but the results of the evaluations are still pending.
The four robots selected include the Armadillo, a 5.5-pound system made by MacroUSA; QinetiQ’s Dragon Runner 10, which weighs slightly more than 10 pounds; iRobot’s FirstLook, a 5-pound throwable robot; and Throwbot. The Army had already purchased about 700 ReconRobotics throwable robots in two deals in 2011 before buying 1,100 more in February for $13.9 million.
The move comes just as JIEDDO, the Pentagon’s anti-IED shop, is preparing to hold a Robotics Rodeo at Fort Benning, Ga., on June 20-29 to evaluate systems that will aid the dismounted soldier. JIEDDO has selected 35 vendors to compete.