Arrr! Micro-bot climbs ships to spy on pirates

This robot's magnetized wheels allow it to roll up a hull so it can find out what's going on aboard a seized ship.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
The ship-climbing micro-bot would launch from a larger robot. ReconRobotics

Piracy off the shores of Africa continues to be a serious problem, costing the shipping industry billions of dollars. Could robots help in the battle against pirates?

ReconRobotics has teamed up with Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific to develop a concept robot that would be able to climb hulls and perform reconnaissance missions on ships seized by pirates.

The micro-robot would be based on Recon's Throwbot platform, a rolling surveillance robot that can be tossed through a window, down a staircase, or into hazardous situations. It's used by military and law enforcement and can survive throws of 120 feet.

The 1-pound ship-boarding bot would launch from a "marsupial robot deployment system," in which a larger robot would carry it to its deployment location. Its magnetized wheels would then carry it up and over a ship hull to spy on pirates. It has infrared optics to see in the dark.

The concept was shown off in March at the National Defense Industry Association's Ground Robotics Capabilities Conference in Orlando. Fla. There's a video of a prototype climbing a wall here.

The idea is pretty nifty, but the micro-robot first would have to get close enough to a commandeered ship to board it. Robo-boats like the Protector might work.

All it needs is two arms, a cutlass, and a flintlock pistol.