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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tomorrow's Seabots and Their Magnetic Wheels

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Pirate attacks more than doubled during the first three months of this year over the same period in 2010--shooting up from 36 to 77 attacks globally.
While attacks have increased, we’ve also seen an increased willingness on the part of U.S., French, Russian and South Korean special forces to get kinetic, boarding and forcibly retaking some of these pirated ships--a risky proposition given that they're facing an armed and unpredictable enemy--which makes attempts at gaining situational awarness a critical part of the operation.
In order to do that, some think it’s time to call in the robots.
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Throwbot in action
ReconRobotics, Inc., maker of the Recon Scout Throwbot—a handheld 1-lb. self-righting camera on wheels that can be tossed into rooms ahead of police or special forces teams—is working with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems to develop a Throwbot with magnetized wheels that can “crawl” up the side of a ship and move around in interior spaces.
The company has been working with SPAWAR for “about six to nine months,” according to said Alan Bignall, President and CEO of ReconRobotics, who told me that the pair so far have “proven conceptually that [the robot] has the power and the fundamental capacity to climb vertical metal structures.” The next round of testing hopes to refine that ability while “taking it to the next level.” The tests that have already been completed were designed primarily to see if the magnetized robot could support its own weight and climb a vertical surface without sticking, all of which worked as planned.
Bignall said that other than the magnetic wheels, the new ‘bot is essentially the same as the Throwbot, of which there are about 1,500 models in action worldwide being used by special forces and law enforcement.
In a press release announcing the partnership, Bignall explained that the plan is “to further develop this robot and quickly bring it and the marsupial robot deployment system to market. In the future this system might also include other payloads and sensors which would increase its versatility and expand its mission profile.” The marsupial robot concept allows the operator of a larger robot to transport and deploy a smaller robot downrange using a customized, ejectable sabot.
There’s no time schedule to offer the ‘bot up to customers, since more tests have to be completed first, Bignall says, but a small, 1-lb.robot that can climb up the side of a ship and spy on pirates hiding out below deck would be a huge boost to those tasked with going aboard a hostile vessel.

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