- How do you say ‘Geronimo!’ in binary?
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to a fantastic new sport: robot tossing. Like any good pastime, ‘bot tossin’ has applications in the real world. The Eye Drive, a new robot from Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) is a rugged wheeled observation drone that can be rolled, dropped, and yes, thrown, into battle. With a 360° field of vision and near infrared (NIR) illumination, the Eye Drive is a highly functional mobile camera. Attach weapons or additional sensors, and the little bot is custom fit for applications in the military, law-enforcement, or search and rescue. Watch the Eye Drive take a beating and keep on spying in the demonstration video from botjunkie below.
Originally developed by Israeli contractor ODF Optronics, the Eye Drive is just one of the many military drones that could see use on and off the battle field. Portable and rugged observation units will become more popular especially in situations where explosives limit the access of humans. Why send in a fellow soldier when you can just throw in a robot that will do all the reconnaissance for you? As silly as it sounds, ‘bot tossin’ is going to save a lot of lives.
Besides being nigh-invulnerable, one of the Eye Drive’s biggest assets is its panoramic vision. Using four cameras (illuminated by white or NIR LED) the robot can see everything that is happening around it. An additional fifth camera with tilt and zoom allows the operator to further investigate a situation. That operator uses point ‘n go™ controls attached to a laptop. Basically, the user can see what the robot sees and then tap on the area of image the robot should travel to next. Intuitive and quick, these controls are remarkably similar to the iPhone drone application developed recently by MIT. Maybe Northrop Grumman and ODF should think about upgrading.
The limitations of the Eye Drive may not be apparent in the video. The range of control is about 300 meters outdoors (about the distance you could easily make out the shape of the 1 square-foot-sized bot). Inside, however, that range is limited to 70 meters. For single room observation that’s ok, but it’s a little short if you need to explore an entire bunker, or if you’re trying to find someone lost in rubble. Also, while the Eye Drive is fast for a tiny tracked robot (stated at 10 kph in the video, but 12 kph according to its spec sheet) I doubt it could dodge any sort of determined gun fire.
Which leads me to question if and how the Eye Drive will actually see use. The addition of a weapons payload, or explosive ordinance, could transform this robot into a wheeled version of a predator drone. The video certainly raises that possibility. But ODF Optronics also makes a deployable ball-shaped camera (the Eye Ball) which is seen in the vid as well. “A camera bot that can deploy more cameras” certainly seems to suit the Eye Drive better than some sort of hunter-killer application. We may see the Eye Drive get a lot more traction with fire departments, police precincts, and disaster relief squads than with the army.
Whether or not the Eye Drive sees combat, the real story is once again (say it with me everyone), “robots are the future of the military.” Additionally, the point ‘n go™ controls, so similar to the iPhone drone app, may indicate a new way of controlling robots. Instead of using joysticks, or even hand signals, soldiers of the future may simply suggest what they want, and let the bot handle the details. That’s a scary concept considering some of those robots will be carrying weapons. But hey, if they ever get too dangerous we can just toss them out a window. Right?