iRobot has just introduced the 110 FirstLook, a very small and lightweight robot designed to be used for scouting and surveillance when you don’t have access to its big brother, the Packbot. FirstLook is 25 centimeters (10 inches) long, 23 cm (9 in) wide, and only 10 cm (4 in) high. It weighs less than 2.3 kilograms (5 pounds). Onboard, it has four separate cameras, one on each side, allowing the operator to see in every direction at once, with IR illuminators for night vision.
FirstLook is designed to be as rugged and reliable as iRobot’s other battlefield robots. It’s throwable, and can survive a 4.5 meter (15 foot) drop onto concrete and complete submergence in water. Using a pair of rotating flippers, it can climb curbs and stairs, and flip itself over if it ends up upside-down. Top speed is 5.6 kilometers per hour (3.5 mph), and FirstLook can scoot around for up to six hours on a charge, or spend 10 hours broadcasting live video from a stationary position.
If FirstLook robot looks somewhat familiar, that’s because it is: We saw a very similar robot (or at the very least a similar form factor) as part of an early LANdroid prototype program, which was still active as of September of 2010. That program was intended to create a swarm of super cheap (less than US $100) urban robots that can work together to form an adaptable and self-healing wireless network. Now, I’m not saying that FirstLook is related to the LANdroid, per se; it may just be that iRobot has developed a simple, rugged, and reliable form factor that can be adapted for several different purposes.
However, FirstLook also does seem to have some very LANdroid-y capabilities. From iRobot’s fact sheet:
Mesh Networking Capabilities-
Digital mesh networking allows multiple FirstLook robots to relay messages over greater distances, increasing Line of Sight and Non-Line of Sight capabilities. The robot offers multiple public and military radio band configurations.
Interesting, very interesting. It sort of sounds like FirstLook may in fact be able to be used as network extenders like LANdroids, albeit likely without the autonomous and self-healing capabilities, and definitely without the $100 price.
Another cool feature: iRobot developed a fancy operator control unit (OCU) for the FirstLook. It’s a wrist-mounted touchscreen device that looks like something straight out of a James Bond movie [see photo below]. From the specs:
Wrist-Mounted, Touchscreen OCU -
FirstLook uses a wrist-mounted, touchscreen Operator Control Unit (OCU). The battery-powered OCU includes a built-in radio.
Oh, and there’s one other little interesting factoid from iRobot’s fact sheet on the FirstLook, when they’re talking about payloads:
Payload Expansion -
Facilitates integration of specialized cameras, thermal imagers,
chem-bio-radiation sensors and destructive payloads weighing up to a half pound.
Destructive payloads, you say? Would that be like dropping little mines, or like driving underneath a tank and committing suicide in homage to one of the first battlefield robots ever? Either way, my imagination is already running wild with that one.
While we don’t yet know how much FirstLook is going to cost to deploy, to keep it competitive with other small surveillance robots it’s going to need to end up somewhere in the high four figures to low five figures. We’ll keep you updated as we find out more, but in the meantime, check out a bunch of extra pics and some video of FirstLook in action:
Images and video: iRobot
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.