Robots like iRobot PackBots are great tools for (among other things) detecting IEDs, and they've managed to save the lives of countless soldiers, often by sacrificing themselves. Not every soldier (or even every squad) gets a PackBot, though, since the robots cost a lot of money: this 2010 contract suggests that we're looking at over $125,000 for a new iRobot PackBot 510 system.
At this rate, it's gonna be a while before every soldier can rely on a top of the line EOD robot, but in many cases, a top of the line robot (that costs a hundred thousand dollars) is overkill, or at the very least, not strictly necessary to still provide a valuable contribution to a squad of soldiers. Take the RC truck in the above picture. It's pretty fancy, as RC trucks go, with a top speed of 60 mph and costing several hundred dollars. That wireless surveillance cam may have added another couple hundred or so. The system was shipped to Afghanistan by the brother of a soldier stationed there, who used it scout for IEDs from the distant safety of an armored Humvee. A couple weeks ago, the little truck was vaporized when it managed to set off a 500 pound IED that might have otherwise been triggered by the Humvee itself, and this is the fifth IED that the truck has detected, although the first one that it's actually set off.
Here's an excerpt from an ABC News email interview with the soldier who was using the truck:
In his email, Chris Fessenden said the little truck has successfully found four IEDs since he first got it.
"We do mounted patrols, in trucks, and dismounted by foot," he wrote. "The funny thing is the Traxxis does faster speeds than the trucks we are operating in under the governing speed limit... so the traxxis actually keeps up with us and is able to advance past us and give us eyes on target before we get there."
"Is it a toy?" he wrote. "Yeah it is...is it fun... absolutely... but the guys here take the truck very seriously when out on [a] mission."
$500 is really, really cheap, especially when you consider how many lives this little thing has saved. Would it be too much to ask for the military to spend a relatively infinitesimal amount of money and just ship a bunch of these direct to Afghanistan? Apparently it is, because the guys who had the idea originally have set up a charity specifically to send as many toy trucks to Afghanistan as they possibly can. Feel free to donate here.