Canada Buys Bomb Detecting Robots

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

iRobot’s PackBot unmanned ground vehicle gained notoriety during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for helping detonate deadly improvised explosive devices that littered roadways. Now, by using new sensors, the system can detect chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive material.

In April, the company delivered 20 iRobot 510 PackBot CBRNe systems to the Canadian Department of National Defence, said Tom Frost, senior vice president and general manager of the company’s defense and security division.

“Our team is up there with the customer and we’re training them on the system and developing the techniques and tactics around how to use it,” he said.

The new variant is based on the classic PackBot design that includes treaded wheels, cameras and a long arm with a gripper. However, it is outfitted with five sensors that can sniff out toxic gases, nerve agents, explosives, radiation and more.

The $9.6 million contract — which includes the ground vehicles, training and future product lifecycle support — marks the first customer for the CBRNE-variant of the robot. The company hopes to sell it to other countries for military and domestic purposes, such as law enforcement, Frost said.

“We’re seeing a lot of need for this type of configuration,” he said. “There’s a big push to have this kind of detection capability.”

Depending on the environment, the system can traverse about 800 meters and maintain its connection to an operator through a radio frequency signal. That gives a user “a really good stand off distance,” he said.

“There may be a suspicious agent or a suspicious package in a building and you want to go in and investigate that package or that barrel of stuff. You want to get a reading on what that stuff is long before you send any person in,” he said.

With that information in hand, users can develop a plan of action, he added.

Operators can also program the control unit to alert them to when the robot detects unsafe levels of certain chemicals or gases, he noted.

Owners of existing PackBots can have their systems outfitted with the new sensors, he said. The company has sold more than 5,000 robots to military and civil defense forces globally.

Topics: International, Robotics

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