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Enter the BomBot

by david_axe on June 13, 2006

One of the nice things about being editor of Defense Tech is that people occasionally show up at your apartment with military robots. Take last Friday, for example, when Bradley DeRoos and Alex Gizis dragged one of their brand-new BomBots into my dining room.
bombot_home.JPG600 of the machines have already shipped to troops in Iraq. Another 1800 are being built. And if the BomBots look more like toy trucks than military-grade hardware well, there’s a reason for that. That’s exactly what the things are.
Gizis spent several years designing bad-ass digital controllers for RC cars — the fastest of their kind, working in the 2.4 GHz band. They transmit drivers’ orders in a hurry. And the controllers send all kinds of telemetry data back, like engine temperature and battery strength.
It all worked so well, Gizis figured the military might be interested in some cheap, remote-controlled bomb-spotters. The current crop of ordinance-disposal robots cost $100,000 or more, he knew. Even the smaller, dumbed-down Marcbots, used on route patrol, can run about $15,000 each. Maybe, Gizis thought, he could come up with something cheaper.
So Gizis started playing around with Traxxas E-maxx RC trucks, to see if they could do the job. At the same time, some Air Force Research Laboratory engineers (working with the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division) were also fiddling with E-maxxes, to handle the same duties. But they couldn’t get the radios to work.
Eventually, everyone was brought together by the National Center for Defense Robotics. And within a couple of months, the first BomBots were being sent off to Iraq for testing.
At 15 pounds, 22 inches high, the miniature truck isn’t exactly bomb-proof. It doesn’t have to be be. At $5,000 a pop — dirt cheap, by military standards — the bot becomes a sound investment even if it’s blown sky-high after the fourth or fifth use. You could even imagine the BomBots keeping up with Humvees on route patrol, since the machines have a top speed of 35 miles per hour and a range of 1500 feet.
Now, Gizis claims the trucks are also going to be used for bomb disposal, as well as bomb spotting. And that’s a little harder to imagine — despite the nifty, six-inch loading bay, big enough to dump off a C4 brick. EOD techs tend to be pretty particular about where they place their bang. The BomBots don’t have the dexterity to pull off much precision. But for a souped-up RC truck, the machines are pretty cool.
Who’s that at the door now, I wonder?

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