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Taser links up with iRobot for stunning new products

It's a stun gun on a robot. The military wants them, and probably so do a lot of 13-year-old boys.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read

Taser International, the people who make the stun guns, and iRobot have kicked off a collaboration to develop machines for the military and police agencies that ideally will incapacitate, but not kill, suspects.

Thus, instead of sending a rookie cop into a strip club to break up a fight between a bouncer and a coked-up drummer from a heavy-metal band, the robot can do it for him.

A PackBot in the field--No taser U.S. Army

And think of the improvements in crowd control you could achieve at those messy Greenpeace rallies.

The two companies have already integrated a Taser X26 stun gun--also known as "an electronic control device," in Taser talk--on to an iRobot PackBot, the mobile military robot created by the company. PackBots have been used to perform reconnaissance in the caves of Afghanistan during combat situations and to investigate potential roadside bombs in Iraq, among other assignments.

Colin Angle, one of iRobot's founders, has in the past talked about rigging up PackBots, which can accept a wide variety of attachments, with nonlethal weapons as a way to cut down on military and civilian fatalities.

"We've evolved beyond Vietnam, where they would tie a rope around someone and lower them in a cave so if they got shot, they (could) pull them out," he said in a 2005 interview. "Every time you go in a door, you have to make a decision. Do you jump in? You could get shot. Do you throw a grenade in? It could blow up an innocent person in the room. The robot's true value is...decreasing the battlefield fog.

Other companies have created robots mounted with machine guns, but these have not been used extensively by the military.

iRobot also makes the popular Roomba vacuum cleaner and other household robots. Many of these can accept payloads too. Conceivably, you could one day see a Roomba that zaps intruders, rodents and household pets.

In the interests of editorial disclosure, I'm actually somewhat familiar with the products from both companies and have been impressed. We had a Scooba in the house for a few weeks for testing and found it remarkable.

Back in 2004, I also voluntarily got zapped with a Taser. It felt like being dipped into a vat of boiling oil while having nails driven through my hands. But if I ever had a subconscious desire to rob a convenience store, that one second blast got rid of it.

And the numb sensation in my hands faded after a while.