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Military Robots to Get a Virtual Touch

A modified game controller will give military bomb-disposal experts remote touch.

iRobot, the company that makes military robots as well as the Roomba vacuuming bot, announced last Friday that it will receive funding for several endeavors from the Robotics Technology Consortium (RTC).

One project will see the company develop controllers that give remote robot operators sensory feedback. The US military currently uses iRobot’s wheeled PackBot in Iraq and Afghanistan for tasks such as bomb disposal, detecting hazardous materials and carrying equipment.

The company says that adding force sensing to a PackBot arm could give operators the ability to “feel” the weight of an object or whether it is hard or soft, via the robot’s arms.

iRobot plans to use an enhanced version of the Novint Falcon haptic controller–a device designed for computer games that provides a remote sense of touch to the user.

According to the president of iRobot’s Government and Industrial Robots division Joe Dyer:

“[This] would greatly improve warfighters’ ability to examine and manipulate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and reduce their time on task, ultimately keeping them safer,”

The RTC funds will also go toward developing better sniper detection and a sensing robotic head for the UGVs.

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