Wednesday, April 24, 2013

This Is The Robot That Searched The Tsarnaevs' S.U.V.

110878655-580.jpgIn the black, early hours of Friday, April 19th, a pair of robots rolled up to a dark Honda Civic parked in the middle of the street in Watertown, Massachusetts. The windows had been shot out. It had been abandoned by Dzohkhar Tsarnaev, following a police pursuit and shootout that left his older brother, Tamerlan, dead; Dzohkhar escaped in a Mercedes S.U.V. the pair had stolen earlier that night.

Eventually, one of the robots located and removed a gallon jug. After a more extensive search, one hour later, a human in bomb-disposal armor was finally able to approach the vehicle. The caution was warranted: according to the criminal complaint filed against the surviving Tsarnaev brother, police recovered two unexploded I.E.D.s from the scene of the shootout.

That robot, just seven inches tall, twenty inches wide, and around three feet long, is explicitly designed for situations like the Watertown shootout, where the risk is too high for humans to be the first responders. It’s called the PackBot, and it was developed by iRobot, a company based in Bedford, Massachusetts. It began life in 1998, under a DARPA contract for a tactical mobile robot; in 2001 it searched the remains of the World Trade Center, and by 2002 it was deployed with U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

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