iRobot 110 FirstLook

Throwable robot takes the point in dangerous situations

It's an old cliché, but true: Necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of iRobot's new 110 FirstLook robot, the need was for a way to deploy a device without getting soldiers killed.

The FirstLook can be tossed into a building or over a wall. It then maneuvers via a wireless operator control unit, sending back video of the scene to the control unit’s five-inch LCD screen.

According to Mark Belanger, iRobot’s director of robotics products, the 110 FirstLook was first developed for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It's all about putting safe separation distance between the warfighter and the threat," Belanger said. "While the original threat was an IED, it could also be an enemy sniper or a trap of any sort that is inside the building. A lot of Marines in Falluja were lost because the enemy was hiding behind bunkers, behind thick walls and elsewhere in compounds. Marines and soldiers couldn't see into these buildings and compounds before they raided them.

Since the terrain often prohibited simply maneuvering a robot over the ground, iRobot designed a throwable robot. "It had to be truly man-portable," said Belanger. "It also had to be really rugged because what they really wanted to do was to throw the robot through a window or over a wall and into a building." 

The 110 FirstLook — weighing in at 5.4 pounds — is certainly portable. And it's built to withstand drops of up to 16 feet and is waterproof to a depth of three feet. And it's agile. It can climb steps up to 7 inches high, and it's almost impossible for it to land in such a way that it can't get going.

It has been designed so that no matter how it lands, it can right itself, Belanger said. The operator can either use flippers to right the device or, if the operator can't see the unit, he can press a button that will initiate an automatic self-righting.

The 110 FirstLook – which measures 4 inches by 10 inches by 9 inches – carries four cameras facing to the front, rear and sides. It can move at up to 3.4 miles per hour and has a radio-control range of 656 feet.

While the 110 FirstLook was developed for use by the military, Belanger says it has been increasing deployed domestically by police departments. It has also been used in some nuclear facilities to drive into hot zones for inspections.

The 110 FirstLook is priced under $20,000, and Belanger says the company has sold over 500 during in the past year, with approximately a fifth of those going to police departments.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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