If something terrible happens at your job, you might file a report about it and your boss will follow up on it. If something terrible happens at a bomb tech’s job, they might get exploded. A tragedy if it’s a human being. But if it’s a robot? A small lump sum out of the defence budget.
You’re on an elite US Navy Explosive Ordinance Device (EOD) team, somewhere in the Afghanistan. You can’t tell your family where exactly — that’s classified. Last week the Taliban took over a small building that had been used by the ANP (Afghani National Police) as a base, but it seems that they have now abandoned it. The ANP wants to use it again, but you’ve got to make sure there are no IEDs or boobytraps. It’s now dark, and your truck is a few hundred yards from the building. It’s time to send in the bots.
The ThrowBot accidentally tripped a wire that was linked to a network of bombs. The entire building has collapsed into a pile of rubble. One of your main duties is to see if there is any evidence (or bodies) buried under there. In the future, you’ll be able to use Jambots. Jambots enjoyed a little bit of internet fame when this video made by IEEE Spectrum went viral on YouTube. They are composed of several panels that are filled with a particulate-like beaded glass or sand. When air is sucked out of a panel, it becomes very rigid, and when it’s pumped in, it becomes big and soft.
Doing this in a controlled series is how locomotion is achieved, and it enables the Jambot to fit through tiny cracks in the rubble where a normal robot couldn’t go. For now they must be connected to a network of hoses in order to pump the air in and out, but down the road iRobot hopes to develop a small, integrated pump-system, that would untether this strange little thing. The Jambots could incorporate small cameras and microphones, making them awesome for a reconnaissance situation just like this one. Unfortunately, they’re just at an early prototype stage right now, so for today, your mission is over.
As you head back to base in your armoured vehicle, maybe you reflect on how glad you are for these robots. The thought of someone on your team getting their head shot off trying to look over a wall, or blown up outright because they had to put feet on the ground in a dangerous situation is the ultimate nightmare. Now, if iRobot could just create a fembot that seduced the enemy, maybe all of our troops could come home.
The Bots of War is a multi-day series on iRobot’s lesser-known and more incredible little machines that defuse bombs, plant C4 and wage all-out war on our behalf.
Video: Jeremiah Hair and Woody Allen Jang.