Support: November 1, 2004

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While American young men are not likely to be called to war by a new draft, the same cannot be said for young American robots. As with so many other areas of civilian technology, the military has found a battlefield use for household robots. The Roomba cleaning robot (basically a self-propelled vacuum cleaner that can figure out how to get around a room and clean the floor in the process) has been a great commercial success, and is into its third generation. So the U.S. Army has asked Roombas manufacturer, iRobot, Inc, to create a robotic battlefield truck by 2010. Not satisfied with that schedule, iRobot has teamed with John Deere & Co., to put Roomba, GPS, and other existing technology, on Deeres jeep like Gator vehicle (which American infantry and Special Forces love) to produce R-Gator. The new vehicle will be able to make its own way across the battlefield, freeing up troops, and saving lives as well. Making supply runs in a combat zone is a dangerous activity. Having a vehicle that can do it without a human driver will be much appreciated by the combat troops. The R-Gator could also be used for patrolling, by itself, thus sparing more troops from some dangerous work. 

The U.S. Army has been working on robotic vehicles for several decades. But their approach has always been artificial vision, which has proven difficult to perfect. The iRobot technology uses simpler sensors, and this approach has proved much more practical and reliable. While the great outdoors is a far more complex place than a room in need of vacuuming, iRobot engineers feel that they can get a working R-Gator into action within two years. They have good reason to be confident, for there are already robot sentry vehicles in use that patrol outdoors, although usually along a fence line or along paths inside a area in need of heavy security. But simpler sensors have worked there, and the R-Gator is not a huge jump ahead. 

 


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