Upgraded ground robot ships out to Afghanistan

iRobot’s PackBot 510 offers speed and flexible software configurations

U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan will have a faster, smarter and stronger robot to assist them with their missions, according to officials at iRobot Corp., which has tailored a model specifically for the country’s rugged and mountainous terrain.

The PackBot 510 with Aware 2.0 software enables the use of modular plug-and-play payloads to be configured the specific missions. It allows the user to build on the platform’s capabilities over time, extending the robot’s overall lifecycle, the officials said. The approach is important because the Army will continue to discover new applications for unmanned ground vehicles in the months and years ahead.

“As America’s military focus transitions from Iraq to Afghanistan, there is a need to provide the military with new, updated solutions for the very different landscape environment in Afghanistan,” said Joe Dyer, president of iRobot Government and Industrial Robots. “The fact remains that 52 percent of Army casualties come in first contact with the enemy, [so] we say ‘Let the robot go in first and make initial contact.’”

The PackBot 510, which moves at 5.8 miles per hour, is 30 percent faster than the PackBot 500 and has the ability to lift twice as much weight as the previous model, Dyer said. A single PackBot 510 platform can also mount chemical and radiological sensors, explosive detectors, thermal cameras, three different manipulators and other payloads while simultaneously supporting and providing increased processing power, he said.

The PackBot 510 can perform improvised explosive detection missions in a number of setting and circumstances related to check points, inspections and route clearance. The new model not only furnishes soldiers with a tool to uncover and dispose of IEDs, but also offers improved lift and manipulation capabilities. It comes with a military-standard batteries and a hardened laptop with game-style hand controller.

The Army placed its first order for 125 PackBot 510s with explosive ordnance disposal kits in May. The $16.8 million order was placed under an existing indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity Army contract valued at $200 million. The Army has placed six orders so far under the IDIQ contract, company officials said. Altogether the company has delivered more than 2,400 PackBot robots to the Defense Department.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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