iRobot to Build Soft Military Robots

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The next generation of military robot won’t be gun-toting, armored, or equipped with explosives. Instead, it will be soft. So says iRobot about the next custom robot it will be engineering for the U.S. military.

The company announced Tuesday that it had received a multi-year, $3.3 million contract for the mobile robots from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Army Research Office. Their mission: build a so-called ChemBot that can worm its way through the most cluttered and complex environments, and through openings that are smaller than it is.

“Unmanned platforms such as mechanical robots are of limited effectiveness if the only available points of entry are small openings,” said DARPA program manager Mitchell Zakin, Ph.D., in a statement. “We believe that a new class of soft, flexible, meso-scale mobile objects that can identify and maneuver through openings smaller than their dimensions to perform various tasks will be quite valuable in many missions.”

iRobot, makers of the popular Roomba and Scooba home-cleaning robots, already makes an array of government and industrial robots such as the popular PackBot line, the remotely driven R-Gator, and the FCS SUGV.