The U.S. Department of Defense's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization has placed an order with iRobot for more than 100 ground-based, throwable robots.
Most people know iRobot for its popular home-cleaning Roomba model; what they don't know is that the company supplies industry and the military with them, too. (In case you missed it, we spoke at length with CTO Tom Wagner about this in February of last year.)
The 110 FirstLook robot, which was introduced last year, weighs five pounds and is 10 inches at its largest dimension. It's designed to be tossed into hard-to-access areas for awareness -- say, if a unit wants to clear a building but doesn't know what's behind the door. It has four built-in cameras (with infrared capability), can handle 15-foot drops on concrete, is waterproof to three feet, can climb objects up to eight inches in height (e.g. stairs) and can automatically right itself when flipped over.
The infantry of the future, basically. For six to 10 hours at a time, at least.
The robots have already been delivered to JIEDDO and will take part in an operational assessment this spring. In the meantime, iRobot is working to add two-way audio communication and digital mesh networking to the 'bots, which would allow multiple robots to relay radio communications over greater distances.