Infantry: Throwbots Get Ears


June 26, 2012: The U.S. Army and the Marine Corps have bought several thousand throwable robots for checking out inside buildings, caves, or whatever. The Recon Scout throwbot manufacturer has responded to user requests and added a microphone to the throwbots capabilities. 

These are small robots designed to be thrown into a dark room or cave and then move around while transmitting video and sound. Before the army and marines got enthusiastic about throwbots last year, the device was being used by police (especially SWAT teams) and some special operations units for years.

For a long time the concept of tossing small combat robots into a room, and letting them broadcast back video of what's there, was popular but never seemed to work. This was largely because the small robots never got small enough to toss or robust enough to work once they landed. That problem was solved in the last six years with the development of the Recon Scout, a small 18.6cm (7.4 inches) wide robot that weighs 540 gr (1.2 pounds). It's basically two wheels with a thick axle containing a battery and electronics. The infrared night camera can see about 8 meters (25 feet), while the day cam can see much farther. The night camera turns on automatically when it becomes too dark for the day camera.

The Recon Scout can transmit its images 30 meters (93 feet) from inside a building and three times that outside. In Afghanistan, the throwbot is often used outside and thrown into a rocky area or over a wall.

Recon Scout moves at a speed of about 30 cm (one foot) per second and can survive being dropped about nine meters onto a hard surface. The controller weighs less than 900 gr (two pounds) and has a 88mm (3.5 inch), 640x480 pixel screen. The Recon Scout is maneuvered using video game like controls.

To use the Recon Scout IR you attach two antennae to the device, pull a pin to activate it, and then throw. The controller starts receiving transmissions as soon as the pin is pulled. Battery life depends on how much you move the device around but it's good for 10-15 minutes of movement, more than enough to check out a large area before sending the troops in.

Recon Scout IR systems cost about $8,000. A more rugged model, the Recon Scout XT is a little larger at 20.3 cm (8 inches) wide and weighing 590 gr (1.3 pounds), and has claws attached to its two wheels, enabling it to maneuver better in broken terrain. The XT model is designed to be thrown, much like a grenade, up to 40 meters (120 feet) and is more rugged. It is meant to operate in a more violent environment and outdoors. These XT models cost about $15,000 each.





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