The Air Force Wants Throwable 'Micro-Robots' for Room Reconnaissance

A Throwbot, a microrobot that records and transmits video and audio.
A Throwbot, a microrobot that records and transmits video and audio reconnaissance, moves into a room to evaluate the scene prior to a 96th Security Forces Squadron team advances in Aug. 5, 2020 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force/Samuel King Jr.)

U.S. Air Forces Europe is considering adding "throwable robots," which can scour a room or outdoor area and confirm whether there are people around, to its inventory.

In a solicitation for information posted on the government's acquisition and awards website last week, the service is asking defense and technology companies for their ideas on "throwable reconnaissance micro-robots."

Each device would weigh roughly one pound, light enough that troops could fling it into a room and then control it with a handheld device, according to the solicitation.

The micro-robot should be able to "transmit real-time video and audio … locate and identify subjects, confirm presence of hostages and reveal the room layout," it adds.

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Reminiscent of the spider robots in the 2002 sci-fi action film "Minority Report," the rugged, shock-resistant robot should have state-of-the-art sensors that can collect images through a 60-degree field of view -- narrow in scope but sharp in resolution -- and transmit any audio to a headset airmen would wear while maneuvering the device, the solicitation states.

The Air Force detailed a few more specifications, per the request for information:

  • No longer than 8.3 inches, with a width of 7.9 inches and height of 4.5 inches
  • Able to climb in "hard-to-reach spaces" and over terrain
  • Line of sight of 150 feet indoors and 450 feet outdoors
  • Operate up to speeds of 1.8 feet per .6 seconds
  • Capable of 110 minutes of runtime and 160 minutes of observation mode, or more
  • Water- and dust-resistant
  • Sensors adaptable to low-light areas and equipped with infrared capable out to 25 feet
  • Capable of carrying or tugging a payload of two pounds or more
  • Operate on fixed radio frequencies and channels
  • Has the option to hold a high-definition camera system capable of 30 frames per second

The Air Force said it is conducting market research and doesn't plan to hold discussions about the research with interested companies. Proposals should be submitted by Feb. 12.

It's not the first time the service has looked to enhance security operations with nimble robots.

Last year, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida began using throwable, football-size robots for security training. Called "Throwbot," security forces airmen at the base can use the device to "see around corners while clearing a building," which could be helpful in an active-shooter situation, according to a release.

In November, Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base began rolling out "robot dogs" to patrol alongside airmen.

Members of the 325th Security Forces Squadron at the base began testing the use of the semi-autonomous droids, developed by Ghost Robotics, for extra security, the service said in a release at the time.

The robots -- which are not designed to replace real military working dogs in any way -- are meant to be programmed with a patrol route and to act as an extra set of eyes in areas airmen can't get to quickly, the release said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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