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."