US Army robots to detect Iraq bombs

The US Army has deployed about 30 robots with troops in Iraq to scout out suspected roadside bombs, and has placed orders for several hundred more, an army official said.

    A spy plane that can fit into a backpack has also been ordered

    "To me, it's a lot like an Easter Egg hunt: If you have more Easter egg hunters, you'll find more Easter eggs," said Colonel Gregory Tubbs on Friday.

    The Marcbot robot is a small, wheeled vehicle that carries a camera atop an arm that can be manipulated by remote control from several hundred feet away.

    They are used only to visually identify mines or improvised explosives concealed in animal carcasses, or plastic bags - not to dispose of them.

    "There's 30 out there now," he said. "I'm in the process, in the next probably six months, of putting another couple of hundred in the field." He said several hundred were on order. They cost $8000 a piece.

    Urban combat robot

    Another version, called the Toughbot, has been developed with urban combat in mind.

    Instead of sending a soldier through a door, the Toughbot could be thrown into a room through a window, Tubbs said.

    "It's got two cameras on it.  He could very easily and rapidly interrogate the interior of the room before live humans came in the area," he said.

    "To me, it's a lot like an Easter Egg hunt:  If you have more Easter egg hunters, you'll find more Easter eggs"

    Colonel Gregory Tubbs,
    US Army

    Tubbs, who heads an army programme that looks for relatively quick technological fixes for problems arising in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, showed off a number of items at a Pentagon press conference in Washington.

    They included surveillance cameras that can be deployed on blimps and towers; a light weight metal detector for finding weapons caches; jammers; and a handheld device that translates a soldier's English commands or questions into Arabic.

    Unmanned spy plane

    A highlight was the Tacmav - an ultralight, unmanned spy plane with an 18-inch wingspan that loiters for more than 30 minutes. It also can be collapsed into a bundle small enough to go into a backpack.

    Tubbs acknowledged it was a fairly unsophisticated system designed for foot soldiers.

    "All I want to do with this type tool is to see over the hill and to see around the corner," he said.

    "Now, it sounds, kind of, overly simplistic. But if you're on the ground and you're worried about the enemy killing you, a lot of times you just want to see around the corner to see what's there before you go around the corner."

    The system has not been deployed to Iraq yet, in part because few soldiers in Iraq have time to go through the three to four week training. Its developers are trying to shorten the training time.

    A three-plane system costs $39,000, Tubbs said.



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