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3/3/2008
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iRobot's LANdroids Win Military Contract

The LANdroids will be small enough so a single soldier can carry multiple robots, inexpensive enough to be disposable, and "smart" enough to avoid obstacles.

iRobot announced Monday that it has won a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency to develop a small robot with tank treads that can communicate in urban settings.

The company said the devices, called LANdroids, will be small enough so a single dismounted soldier can carry multiple robots and inexpensive enough to be disposable. LANdroids can be thrown into position, will use a mesh network to communicate, and will be "smart" enough to avoid obstacles, iRobot said.

In its contract solicitation, DARPA said: "The goal is to create small, inexpensive, smart robotic radio relay nodes that dismounted war fighters drop as they deploy in urban settings. The nodes then self-configure and form a mesh network."

DARPA said it's looking for stable performance from the LANdroids similar to that found in cell phones, with eventual production cost per unit to be $100. "Dismounted war fighters," DARPA said, "must be able to drop and go -- benefiting from the infrastructure while it is in place but not being required to move back into harm's way to retrieve the robots."

The LANdroids could wander around on their own as they self configure to create efficient networks and then self-correct when another LANdroid in the network is blown up or otherwise disabled.

Helen Greiner, co-founder and chairman of iRobot, pointed out that more than 1,300 of the company's PackBot robots have been delivered to troops around the world. In a statement, she said: "Research and development awards such as the DARPA LANdroids program enable us to continue driving innovation toward the next-generation of revolutionary mobile, tactical combat robots that deliver advanced situational awareness and help keep warfighters out of harm's way."

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