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iRobot PakBot, minus the REDOWL box
iRobot's PackBot gets a hearing aide

Unmanned vehicles seem to be all the rage these days with the US military. The United States military is currently working on a centralized control unit that makes it easier for operators to manage multiple vehicles at once. Now, the Army is looking to enhance its iRobot PackBot which has been in service since 2002 in Afghanistan.

The 44-pound iRobot PackBot, which comes from the same manufacturer as the pesky little Scooba and Roomba household cleaners, can be controlled via a fiber optic connection or via radio. Inside its belly are a wide array of sensors and a GPS locator which are controlled using a version of the Linux operating system. The PackBot can navigate rocky terrain, sand, mud and even stairs with its "QuickFlip" rotating flippers and can travel at a top speed of 5MPH.

The PackBot is about to get even more useful in combat situations with the help of REDOWL (Robot Enhanced Detection Outpost with Lasers). The REDOWL system is contained with a small box that sits atop of the PackBot and can detect enemy gunfire in deadly urban combat.

The REDOWL system is able to distinguish enemy AK-47 gunfire from friendly M-16 gunfire or even pistols. Using its six onboard microphones, the REDOWL is able to pinpoint the location of a sniper and transfer that data to the operator or to an unmanned MAV (Micro Air Vehicle) which would loiter over the target area. The MAV would in turn relay that information to troops complete with the sniper's exact location on an area map. The PackBot's operator can stay back at a safe distance and send the robot into the line of fire with the help of 300x zoom cameras.

Developed jointly by Boston University and iRobot, the REDOWL system uses biometric microphone placement and neural networking to operate along the lines of animal hearing. The REDOWL system has been able to localize 95% of gunshots in recent testing and correctly classify each one. It was then able to calculate its distance from the target with a laser rangefinder from as far away as 100 meters.

The current PackBot - REDOWL combination cannot return fire at the moment but Glen Thoren, the deputy director of the Boston University Photonics Center, notes that “It’s obvious that this technology would work well with an armed platform."

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Am I the only one who thought Battlefield...
By Fenixgoon on 12/24/2006 9:07:07 PM , Rating: 2
as in Battlefield 2 and 2142? :D

RE: Am I the only one who thought Battlefield...
By tacorly on 12/24/2006 11:05:26 PM , Rating: 2
No, but upon assumption that terrorists use AK47s and CTs use M16s, counter-strike becomes reality.

RE: Am I the only one who thought Battlefield...
By peternelson on 12/24/2006 11:50:44 PM , Rating: 3
I think these units will cost quite a lot of money to deploy.

It's all very well recognizing M16 fire, but can it hear the sound of an rpg launching in its direction, and even if it can, with a top speed of 5mph do you really think it can get out of the way in time?

Or a well placed smoke nade should make any onboard cameras in the visual range useless.

I'd also think it could be confused by a "simulator" (as used in the movie Ronin) which sounds like live gunfire but isn't.

With more than one loudspeaker fed from say mp3 players, you could create some weird stereo phasing so that the robot could report enemy targets in any arbitrary direction, including their own base.

But it does have echoes of "Skynet".

By oTAL on 12/26/2006 10:20:39 AM , Rating: 2
Dude, what your using against the bot is the same stuff use to confuse (or "destroy") humans... only it's harder!
If it's harder to confuse him than to confuse a human (in most situations anyway, unless one has access to detailed specifications) his information will probably be useful anyway... at least more useful than human info, and with the added benefit of not getting anyone into harms way.

As a side not I'd like to add I'm not especially fond of AI or advanced robotics (such as autonomous mechanized infantry) in warfare. The human factor in the heat of the moment (when things get messy...) is probably the one thing that has avoided an all out nuclear war... Even when defined policies would instruct someone to take a course of action leading to nuclear war, people would avoid that due to human fear, concern for others, and every other good emotion that makes us humans different from the machines (which I work with and learned to love... it's hard not to have some kind of feelings toward a AIBO when you deal with one... it becomes almost a pet =p)
In the very least, robots with guns should be made with very little autonomy, forcing humans to pull the trigger even if safely from a distance. Aircraft pilots bombing cities have shown that they have concern for the people they kill even if they never see their faces so that would be a good enough compromise for me... a human in control...

Robotic infantry or anything close to it has me going back to politics and totalitarian regimes with few controlling the masses. When dictators are toppled it's usually because the people hired to control the masses through the use of violence (which includes murder) refuse to do so (whatever the circumstances).

I highly doubt a robot would have any moral or ethical problem in following his orders even if they meant murdering a crying baby or a mother running with her children...
Hell, they don't even care about killing their own!!! *lol*

By masher2 on 12/26/2006 10:23:56 AM , Rating: 2
> "can it hear the sound of an rpg launching in its direction, and even if it can, with a top speed of 5mph do you really think it can get out of the way in time? "

So your theory is that, unless its immune to any and all weapons on the battlefield, its not worth deploying?

> "Or a well placed smoke nade should make any onboard cameras in the visual range useless"

A well-placed smoke grenade also renders the sight from human troops useless as well. However, we still manage to fight wars where they are used...and a little smoke hardly provides insta-invulnerability for the person deploying the grenade.

> "I'd also think it could be confused by a "simulator""

All weapon systems have their strengths and weaknesses. The reality is that, with this system deployed, a sniper simply can't be as effective without additional equipment to obfuscate the detector. And I strongly suspect that its not nearly as easy to confuse such a system as you think. Sounds recorded then played back have distinctive signatures...nor will a system able to playback gunfire at its original volume level be something small enough to slip into your front pocket.

RE: Am I the only one who thought Battlefield...
By BladeVenom on 12/26/2006 4:57:12 PM , Rating: 2
I kind of doubt any man portable speaker system is going to be able to accurately replicate the super sonic crack that a rifle bullet makes.

By StevoLincolnite on 12/26/2006 11:27:23 PM , Rating: 2
I kind of doubt any man portable speaker system is going to be able to accurately replicate the super sonic crack that a rifle bullet makes.

You forget its the 21st century. Robotics and Electronics are flourishing, More things become possible.
And in reality its quite possible to make a 20 Meter high humanoid robot, That could go crashing through a city.

By Samus on 12/26/2006 8:12:58 PM , Rating: 2
the fact that these will save numerous lives for disarming RSB and land mines, the cost is moot. it probably cost more in therapy to treat an injured soldier(s) or injured disarming squad member than one of these costs, and especially cheaper if God forbid a soldier is killed by a road-side bomb.

these will save lives and cost very little in comparison to the cost of lost life.

By StevoLincolnite on 12/26/2006 11:24:49 PM , Rating: 2
I think these units will cost quite a lot of money to deploy.

Alot of money to deploy? Not nearly as much as Training, Feeding, Transportation, Medical, and the Soldiers paycheck.
And it reduces the chances of a soldier getting shot by a sniper. Now decide which one would cost more to deploy.

Not to mention the units could receive "updates", so that it will gain advantages in a given situation.

By Dactyl on 12/28/2006 11:10:02 PM , Rating: 1
The nice thing about video games is that soldiers' lives are dirt cheap. The one thing you don't worry about is people dying. Everything else costs resources.

But back in the real world...

If a robot gets blown up by an RPG instead of a squad of American soldiers, that's a good thing, and the price is right.

100m is a reasonable distance for a sniper in an urban area. 1000m? Not so much. Definitely not with an AK-47 (bolt-action sniper rifles sound different than what these 'bots are programmed to pick up)

Any idiot taking the effort to fake a shot noise would find it easier just to pull the trigger

The only reason to be annoyed by this program or to reflexively want to find fault with it is because you hate America. (somewhat sarcastically:) Why do you hate America so much?

By TimberJon on 12/26/2006 11:28:43 AM , Rating: 2
Counter-Strike can die.

The armed response should be micro missiles.

Where can I order one?
By Jjoshua2 on 12/24/2006 8:25:38 PM , Rating: 2
Ok, I want one of those to go beside my Roomba!

RE: Where can I order one?
By peternelson on 12/24/2006 11:54:00 PM , Rating: 2
But does it have an optional vacuum suction attachment for cleaning soiled upholstery?

RE: Where can I order one?
By ilmdba on 12/25/2006 4:49:16 PM , Rating: 2
if these robots work anywhere near as poorly as roombas and scoobas, then 'The Terrorists' (anyone who opposes the US government) have nothing to worry about.

RE: Where can I order one?
By rushfan2006 on 12/26/2006 9:37:28 AM , Rating: 3
then 'The Terrorists' (anyone who opposes the US government) have nothing to worry about.

I know this line I'm quoting was rather deliberately placed to stir up "trouble"....but wth I'm bored at the moment so I'll bite....

As for Terrorists being in quotes, don't you believe they are real? Killing people alone doesn't make one a terrorist, if so you could label all the armies and governments of the world as such. Killing people, torturing, never ending intimidation, all the while using fear (ie. spreading "terror") usually with some misguided obsessed and warped concept of "all who don't bow down to my religous belief are scum of the earth and will be extinguised from it"...oh yeah and that little "world domination" thing -- that's pretty much what defines a terrorist.

No government is perfect, in fact its IMPOSSIBLE for one to be perfect. They all are guilty of killing. But I don't remember the US government bend on world domination or spreading terror whith the concept of "you either convert to our relgious beliefs or die".

AK47's arent welded on on at the arms
By Serlant on 12/25/2006 10:31:30 AM , Rating: 3
i don't know is anyone else has said this, but am i the only person whos sees the problem, "my M16 is clogged/jammed" *picks up an ak47* starts firing only to get mowed in the back by a pakbot/friendly fire due to being lit up by a pakbot, this could be especially dangerous if theyre autmated turrets of the like.

RE: AK47's arent welded on on at the arms
By Tsuwamono on 12/25/2006 12:10:00 PM , Rating: 2
that was my first thought. It happens alot and the last thing the soldier needs is to get shot at by both sides.

By VooDooAddict on 12/26/2006 12:31:50 PM , Rating: 1
Ditto on first concern.

By edge929 on 12/26/2006 2:37:06 PM , Rating: 2
If one of these bots was being deployed, and assuming the surrounding troops knew about it, I really don't think they'd be dumb enough to pick up an enemy AK-47. Any US infrantry-man is gonna carry at least two sidearms, the M16 most likely and a pistol. Sure, a pistol is a pea-shooter compared to the M16 but it's better than picking up that AK.

Keep in mind the bot only works within 100m according to the article, so feel free to pick up that AK then or god-forbid un-jam your frickin M16 as you were taught.

100 meters?
By ThisSpaceForRent on 12/24/2006 10:30:50 PM , Rating: 2
That range isn't really a sniper shot. I would think that a human could figure out the direction a shot came from at 300 feet. I'm hoping that they meant 1000 meters and not 100.

RE: 100 meters?
By ADDAvenger on 12/24/2006 11:33:05 PM , Rating: 2
Are you kidding me? I'm no soldier, but think about it: you're in close quarters, the shot probably comes out of nowhere when you're not in an active battle, etc etc, there's lots of reasons a bot could be useful to find where stuff is coming from. Even if you can tell the general direction, apart from the echos etc, it's just the general direction -- this bot is supposed to pinpoint it, not just tell you "he's over there."

RE: 100 meters?
By oTAL on 12/26/2006 12:28:02 PM , Rating: 2
It would be fun though if he quietly did say "Hey! Hey! He's over there! Behind the couch! Shhhhhhhhhhh... Don't make any noise!! Use a grenade! Quick! Now!... NO!! You should have used the other grenade!"
Kinda like when a guy is driving with his girlfriend by his side.... drives me crazy...

By GhandiInstinct on 12/24/2006 7:44:10 PM , Rating: 2
It is nice...I like!

RE: wowaweewa
By oTAL on 12/26/2006 12:20:07 PM , Rating: 1
To GhandiInstinct: Your nickname involved with "liking" a machine for warfare just feels wrong. Gandhi (this is the correct spelling afaik) was one of the greatest man that ever lived (IMHO) and was as pacifist as one can get...
On a side note, I believe he once mentioned that one should always try to resolve conflicts through non-violent methods, but should NEVER use pacifism as a cover for cowardice - two VERY distinct things (as many brave pacifists have proven many times over... some forfeiting their lives in the process...).

By Swaid on 12/25/2006 12:35:11 AM , Rating: 3
I want my Number 5! At least he could fight back.

Can that robot dodge lawsuits?
By KaiserCSS on 12/27/2006 2:50:37 PM , Rating: 2
... cause I see an i- prefix in that name, and I can already see the Apple lawyers crawling towards this one. Perhaps more cautiously than other i- products, since this one's a friggin military robot.

But they're coming... -_-

RE: Can that robot dodge lawsuits?
By masher2 on 12/28/2006 5:59:46 AM , Rating: 1
Actually, the "iRobot" name has been in use a lot longer than the iPod has existed, so I think they're more than safe there. :p

Johnny Five's Grandfather?
By frobizzle on 12/26/2006 10:48:46 AM , Rating: 2
Anyone notice that this looks like a stripped down model of the Short Circuit robot?

only 44lbs?
By Miggle on 12/26/2006 6:52:09 PM , Rating: 2
If this thing weighs 44lbs... wouldn't it be easy for a muscled person in the vicinity to just pickup the robot and run? I hope its got an anti theft mechanism, maybe electrocute whoever touches it

another step towards big brother
By jmunjr on 12/27/2006 1:13:28 AM , Rating: 2
Technology has some good aspects, but this development is just another step towards big brother becoming a complete reality.

Ok this is a defense project/creation and they say it is for the battlefield, but I can see stuff like this showing up in urban areas in our home countries policing the cities. Yeah unmanned police forces are not far away. This would be a very bad thing, regardless of how much crimes it stops.

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen
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