Available Technology

All-Terrain Intelligent Robot Braves Battlefront to Save Lives

A number of iRobot employees have drawn from their NASA experiences to help develop the PackBot Tactile Mobile Robot, used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to help clear caves and bunkers, search buildings, and cross live anti-personnel mine fields. The chief executive officer of iRobot designed behavior-controlled rovers for NASA that led to the Sojourner rover's exploration of Mars in 1997, and the company's president worked at JPL as a student, building gripper systems for space satellites. Additionally, one of iRobot's senior mechanical engineers honed his technical expertise with NASA, by helping to build a Martian rover whose structural features would ultimately be incorporated into PackBot. Nicknamed Rocky-7, this Martian rover served as a terrestrial test bed for the twin Mars exploration rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. PackBot provides soldiers with a safe first look so they know what to expect and how to respond. The robot can climb grades up to 60 percent and survive submersion in water up to 6.6 feet deep, and possesses flippers that propel it up stairs, over curbs, and through daunting obstacles such as rocks, rubble, and debris. If PackBot flips over during operations, the robot uses these flippers to perform a self-righting maneuver in seconds.
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