FirstLook: iRobot’s New Throwable Baby Surveillance Bot

The new iRobot 110 “FirstLook” is small, lightweight, and throwable, perfect for squad-level scouting when you don’t have a Packbot handy

3 min read
FirstLook: iRobot’s New Throwable Baby Surveillance Bot

iRobot 110 FirstLook robot

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:

More images:

iRobot 110 FirstLook robot

iRobot 110 FirstLook robot

iRobot 110 FirstLook robot

iRobot 110 FirstLook robot

Images and video: iRobot

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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