Warrior and PackBot

Most people who know iRobot know its household products, the most famous being the Roomba floor-cleaning machine. But if you're in the defense sector, you know the Bedford, Mass.-based robot maker as well for its PackBot--the smaller of the two machines here. PackBots have served for years now in Iraq, helping soldiers to find and safely neutralize or destroy roadside bombs.

Standing behind the PackBot in a demo room at iRobot's headquarters is a newer design from the company, the Warrior, which is now going into beta testing and being tried out in combat exercises. The Warrior is significantly heavier: 250-300 pounds, compared with 50-60 for the PackBot.

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Warrior, side view

This side view of the Warrior provides a good look at its tracks, which can also lie flat like those of the PackBot behind it. The Warrior can drive at 10 miles per hour, compared with about 6 mph for the PackBot.

iRobot CEO Colin Angle describes the Warrior with unabashed enthusiasm: "That robot is going to change the world, and change the perception of what practical robots are all about. We're pretty passionate about that."

Correction, April 17 8:05 a.m. This caption initially misstated Warrior's speed.

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PackBot

Well over 2,000 PackBots have been sold worldwide--small potatoes, still, against better than 3 million for the Roomba.

There's also a smaller, lighter variation on the PackBot called the SUGV (small unmanned ground vehicle), which was developed in conjunction with the U.S. Army's emerging Future Combat Systems program--and which may well get an expanded role with the Army even as many pieces of FCS look vulnerable to cost-cutting in the Pentagon's proposed defense budget.

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PackBot controls

The ruggedized portable computer system on the table is the PackBot control unit. The PackBot is driven by an ordinary video game controller.
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PackBot "Scooby Doo"

This PackBot served in Iraq and was destroyed in the line of duty. The soldiers who used it nicknamed it "Scooby Doo."
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"Scooby Doo" tally

The soldiers kept a tally on Scooby Doo of how many dangers the robot examined and helped eliminate: 17 improvised explosive devices, or IEDs; 1 car bomb; and 1 unexploded ordinance round.
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Urban Robot

The Urban Robot design, a predecessor to the PackBot, was used in search efforts in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
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Early Roombas

For many consumers, iRobot is synonymous with the Roomba--which is well-known enough to have been lampooned on "Saturday Night Live." These are early versions of the robotic vacuum cleaner.
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Roomba and accessories

This is the newer look of the Roomba, seen here with a pair of accessories: the docking station (center) and the Virtual Wall Lighthouse (left), which can be used to set boundaries for the Roomba.
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iRobot Create

For those who want to tinker and not just clean house, iRobot offered the Create, a programmable machine.
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iRobot Genghis

Mobility among robots isn't all about tracks or wheels. Legs have a role, too. These iRobot designs from the early 1990s are Genghis (left) and Hermes (right).
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Ariel

Ariel was a mid-1990s design, inspired by crabs. It was meant to remove mines and obstacles in the water, and its flexible legs allowed it to walk even if it was turned upside down.
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iRobot Swarm

This robot from 1999 was designed, in the manner of an insect, to work in a swarm with other, similar machines. It was part of iRobot's initial stab at decentralized, networked robotic intelligence.
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iRobot Bit

CEO Colin Angle says that most robotic tasks "are best tackled by designs that are not constrained by trying to look like a person." But that doesn't mean iRobot hasn't experimented with a human look and feel, as with Bit, from 1997.
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