Darpa Seeks Miniature Networking Robots For Urban Combat

The military wants droids that could intelligently choose locations and self-configure to form a mesh wireless voice/data network that isn't dependent on line of sight.



Think you can build tough little robots that use reliable wireless radio-relay to provide communications networks for urban combat? The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency may have a job for you.

Darpa recently announced that it wants proposals for self-healing miniature "LANdroids" that could help U.S. military members fighting in cities.

The droids would intelligently choose locations and self-configure to form a mesh wireless voice/data network that isn't dependent on line of sight, according to the Darpa spec sheet. The networks could supplant radio communications, which are often ineffective in urban combat. The new network pathways would be redundant.

Soldiers must be able to drop the robots (no heavier than 2.2 pounds each) and go the other way, without having to return to a dangerous area to retrieve them. The robots must be able to move slowly through indoor areas, and should cost about $100 each. Designers must use inexpensive, long-life batteries and program the robots to conserve power when necessary.

"The LANdroid is meant to be carried into the field, and as such it must not be a brittle or delicate platform," Darpa said in its 34-page announcement (PDF). "They must be sufficiently rugged and robust to perform credibly and reliably in the field. For the purposes of this task, we will evaluate platforms based on their ability to withstand reasonably hostile environments in terms of mechanical shock, vibration, temperature, dust, and humidity."

The robots don't have to be designed for climbing stairs, but Darpa said it welcomes novel ideas.

Earlier this year, Darpa issued a call for chemical robots that can morph into different shapes and can squeeze, like ferrets or worms, into spaces that appear smaller than the bots themselves. The agency said such soft, flexible, and mobile robots could gain access to hostile areas.

Darpa wants those shape-shifting warbots to be able to enter buildings, scale walls, and creep under doors, while remaining large enough to carry an "operationally meaningful payload."

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