Throwable Robots: A Godsend in Dangerous Situations

Mike O'Brien

It’s only 4.3 inches long and 9 inches wide, but when the going gets tough the rugged little throwable robot named 110 FirstLook really does get going.

It was built by iRobot to provide rapid situational awareness and to investigate confined spaces. After it has beentossed into a building or over a wall, it moves via a wireless operator control unit, sending back video of the scene to the control unit’s five-inch LCD screen.

Originally it was developed for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the robot has proved particularly popular with police departments.

Mark Belanger, iRobot’s director of robotics products, told "It's all about putting safe separation distance between the warfighter and the threat.

"While the original threat was an IED, it could also be an enemy sniper or a trap of any sort that is inside the building. A lot of Marines in Falluja were lost because the enemy was hiding behind bunkers, behind thick walls and elsewhere in compounds. Marines and soldiers couldn't see into these buildings and compounds before they raided them."

The throwable robot had to be "man-portable," Mr. Belanger said, adding: "It also had to be really rugged because what they really wanted to do was to throw the robot through a window or over a wall and into a building."

The 110 FirstLook, which weighs just over 5 pounds — is built to withstand drops of up to 16 feet and can work in water up to three feet.

Withy a price tag of just under $20,000, it won’t be found in too many Christmas stockings, but iRobot has apparently sold more than 500 during in the past year, with about a fifth of those going to the police.

Watch the throwable robot in action in the video below.