The Boston Globe is reporting today that iRobot Corp., maker of the popular Roomba vacuum-bot, has been working in conjunction with Boston University to develop a robot that can spot and point out enemy snipers on an active field of battle. The system, called REDOWL (Robot Enhanced Detection Outpost with Lasers), was put through it’s paces on Wednesday at an Army convention in Washington, DC. It was able to immediately target the source of simulated gunfire with it’s IR camera and laser rangefinder.
The brainchild of Glenn Thoren of the Boston University Photonics Center, REDOWL is built upon iRobot’s PackBot, a robot already employed by the military to explore hazardous terrain and to check for booby traps in buildings. The robot is a combination of ultra-sensitive sound detection equipment, a powerful digital camera that can display infrared images at night, and a laser rangefinder. After the REDOWL’s microphone detects the gunshot(s), the robot swivels, points the camera at the shooter, targets him with a beam or visible or IR light, and uses it’s rangefinder to determine his distance. It is still up to a human to act in order to confront the sniper. While the REDOWL could technically be armed and programmed to react, no one is comfortable enough with the AI and underlying technology to give robots a license to kill yet.
This article reminded me immediately of the amateur sentry gun project that had the tech blogs abuzz a few weeks ago. (Well worth checking out if you haven’t seen it already.) If a single person on a ridiculously limited budget can put together something that functions as well as that sentry gun does, one can only wonder about the limits of what iRobot and Boston University can produce together.
The full text of the article is available here.