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February8, 2007: The U.S. Navy is buying a hundred PackBot robots for bomb disposal work. Made by iRobot, there are several models of Packbot, but the most popular job for these remote controlled vehicles (that look like a miniature tank, with a seven foot extendable arm, where the turret should be) is checking out possible roadside bombs, or booby traps, or the insides of caves or buildings believed to hold hostile gunmen. For over a decade, there have been larger (over a hundred pounds) remote control vehicles like this, built for bomb squads. But better designs, and smaller electronics, have made the man-portable (under 50 pounds) units possible. Two years ago, there were several different systems in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the iRobot equipment has emerged as the most popular, and most effective. This means troops no longer have to get close to possible bombs, and risk getting blown up when nearby terrorists detonate the device.

The new navy model will have a sensor that can detect the presence of explosives based on their very faint fumes. This will make it easer for the PackBot to discover roadside bombs and booby traps. Each of the new PackBots will cost about $166,000. Nearly a thousand PackBots are already in service.

 


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