UPDATE: Some readers argued that the APOBS, or Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System, developed in a joint program of the U.S. Army and Navy, is not, technically, a weapon, because it's not an anti-personnel system but rather a system used against obstacles. Perry Villanueva, the project engineer for the APOBS program on the Army side, says the APOBS "is not a weapon in the traditional sense, but it is a weapon." Other readers wondered how the rocket compensates for things like wind. Villanueva says that is more of an operational issue. "With high winds it is up to the soldier to position it so it will have a high probability of landing on its target."
iRobot released today new video of its Warrior robot, a beefed-up version of the more well-known PackBot, demonstrating use of the APOBS, or Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System, an explosive line charge towed by a rocket, with a small parachute holding back the end of the line. The APOBS, iRobot says, is designed for "deliberate breaching of anti-personnel minefields and multi-strand wire obstacles." It can clear a path 45 meters long and 0.6 meters wide.
iRobot worked with the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD), the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC), and the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific Experimentation Center (MEC) for this demonstration. It took place in November 2009 at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California's Mojave Desert.
Although it may concern those who don't like the arming of robots, it makes great eye candy for those who like robots, rockets, and explosions.
Now, let me say this: I am neither condoning nor condemning the weaponization of robots, just stating the facts that I am aware of.
In early 2009 a handful of defense related companies came to Thailand to demonstrate their latest war toys to the local generals. One of those companies was iRobot, and as I have many friends who work for iRobot and I was living in Bangkok at that time, I got to meet up with them to see one of the toys they brought: a Warrior.
At the time, the Warrior hardware was complete, designed to carry 150 pounds, but I've seen it lift people standing on it. Unfortunately, and understandably, many of my questions about it were answered with "we aren't sure we are allowed to answer that." I couldn't get an answer as to how much it would cost, but I was given the impression that it's more than $100,000 per unit.
Back in the day, the founders of iRobot had been against the weaponization of robots. Perhaps business and financial pressures are pushing the boundaries. Indeed, the military market is becoming ever more important, according to the company's first quarter results. Finances were very tight in 2009, so iRobot probably sees military systems as a market they'll have to explore and expand.
Updated by Erico Guizzo, June 1, 2010: Added details on APOBS; edited comments on iRobot financials and weaponized robots. June 2: Added details on demonstration participants, date, and place. June 3: Added more details on APOBS.