iRobot announces new OS for more autonomous military robots

iRobot, most known to consumers as the company that makes the popular automated vacuum cleaner Roomba, has announced a new operating system that can improve autonomous robots used by the military and in disaster situations. Through the use of an Android app, iRobot hopes to allow military robots to better think on their own, requiring less human time at the controls.

Among the different types of professional-grade robots that iRobot supplies are military-use bomb disposal and reconnaissance units, as well as those used by police and in first response situations. In order for these robots to move around in environments such as a battlefield or natural disaster area, they are controlled by a human using a joystick. The new system from iRobot instead has users tapping on the screen of a tablet in order to direct where the unit needs to go.

This operating system is not something that is meant to replace the joystick control mechanisms on its exiting non-Roomba robots, but rather it is going to be used in future units that are to come with government funding. iRobot says the Pentagon has a growing interest in robots that can independently perform tasks such as navigate through debris, move pieces of rubble, and turn something such as a valve.

The Pentagon's research division, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), is even sponsoring a contest of sorts for other private companies and universities to come up with autonomous robots that can make it through a simulated disaster area. The agency says it expects prototypes to have the approximate intelligence of a two-year-old when the challenge finals are held next summer.

SOURCE Wall Street Journal