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Latest in Tactical Robotics

Robotics began with the sci-fi tale of Rossom’s Universal Robots. The jump from literature to reality has turned robotics into a vital part of medicine, communications, manufacturing, consumer products, and even law enforcement. Robots, large and small, have been developed to increase the safety and efficiency of first responders. Here is some of the latest in tactical robotics—products that combine imagination and engineering to create the first responder tools for search, inspection, surveillance and safety.


Applied Research Associates

Applied Research Associates (ARA) is an international provider of robotics and technical expertise for enforcement and security. Its robotic products emphasize ease of deployment and use, agility, mobility and speed.

The “Pointman” is designed to enter an environment before people are sent in, thus keeping personnel safer. The Pointman operator can also keep a safe standoff distance in order to study the video surveillance of structures, perimeters and/or vehicles that the Pointman provides.


The Pointman unit is a small and unmanned ground vehicle capable of quick and easy deployment, including dropping it through a window or tossing it through a door. Its 19-inch width lets it explore such confined areas such as culverts, buildings, hallways, office spaces, or bus or airline aisles. Wheeled locomotion allows traversing level terrain, but that Pointman can also flip to self right. It negotiates obstacles, climbs stairs, and even pushes open some doors, all while providing daylight, lowlight, and no light (infrared) video.


An integrated, high-intensity headlight ensures continued operation in circumstances that lack ambient light. A video output jack on the controller allows display on an external monitor for evidentiary recording. The camera boom assembly lies flat to allow inspecting under vehicles. Departments considering the Pointman can receive a trial period in which to test the device.

ARA also offers the “Nighthawk Micro UAV” (unmanned aerial vehicle) that is either hand or tube launched. It uses GPS and a built-in autopilot to provide fast situational awareness in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).


ARA recently received authorization by the FAA to provide training, as well as maintenance and repair procedures that allow qualified agencies to obtain a Certificate of Authorization for the operation of the Nighthawk. Currently, such training is done at the ARA facility in Randolph Vt., where the Nighthawk is manufactured, but other training sites are being established.

The Nighthawk can be specifically customized to an agency’s needs. Weighing under two pounds and with a wing span of about 26 inches, it flies at 27 knots, above 300 feet, and has a range of more than 10 kilometers, with a flight time of about 60 minutes—a range and flight time that exceeds comparable systems. It can be flown manually or by autopilot.


Delivering real-time video (and evidentiary recording capability), the unit has wide applications including intelligence, surveillance, search and rescue, disaster response, monitoring of detention centers or borders, or visual access to road-less terrain. A ground station uses PC-based technology for real-time visual feedback and control. Point and click waypoint navigation keeps operation easy.


ARA has developed CBRNE modeling and emergency management to provide interactive maps for evacuation areas and user input annotation, and HazMat evacuation map-based standoff for spills. First-responder support tools are critical, mobile and map-based to support IED and HazMat incident responses. Capabilities include response data, annotation of digital maps, retrieval of weather data to orient downwind hazard areas, and assessment of roadblocks to isolate an area.



The company’s 110 FirstLook ®, 310 SUGV, 510 PackBot® and 710 Kobra™ are its modular, mission- and application-configurable robots for first responders.

The iRobot 110 FirstLook is compact and lightweight, but rugged enough to be expandable and throw-able to give immediate situational awareness, investigate confined spaces, and provide persistent observation with its four, built-in cameras that observe from all sides. It has two-way audio and can be configured with additional sensors and tools for predictive intelligence.


Also appropriate for detection of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) and HazMat materials, the iRobot 110 reports real-time measurements to responders.


The unit weighs five pounds and measures 10 inches long, 9 inches wide, and 4 inches tall. It can survive 16-foot drops onto concrete and is waterproof to 3 feet. Designed to explore tight places, it can climb steps up to 7 inches tread height, overcome curbs and obstacles, turn in place, self-right if flipped over, and run about six hours and up to 3.4 mph.


The iRobot 310 SUGV features a dexterous manipulator and wearable controller for dismounted mobile operations. Easily deployed or carried, it can enter areas too inaccessible or dangerous for people, all while accommodating a range of payloads and sensors. It weighs 30 pounds without payloads and can run up to 6.2 mph or up to four hours. It can lift up to 15 pounds. The wearable controller weighs 6 pounds.


The iRobot 510 PackBot is designed to be adaptable and expandable for such tasks as bomb disposal, surveillance and reconnaissance, CBRN detection, and HazMat handling.


It can climb stairs and navigate narrow passageways, as it relays real-time video, audio and sensor data. It easily climbs stairs and can travel up to 5.8 mph. A retro-traverse capability allows it to retrace an approach path if communications are disrupted. It is submersible to 3 feet of water and operational in all weather environments. It weighs about 24 pounds without batteries, and is 7 inches high by 16 inches wide.


The iRobot 710 Kobra supports and carries multiple and heavy payloads while keeping its mobility and agility. It can lift over 330 pounds, negotiate obstacles and reach as high as 11 feet, and travels up to 8 mph with a 150-pound payload. With the integrating of third-party tools, the Kobra can open doors, break windows, and cut through seatbelt webbing.


The Kobra chassis specifications are 18 inches high, 21.3 inches wide with flippers removed and 30.2 inches with flippers installed, and 36 inches long. It weighs 367 pounds, and 500 pounds with its arm installed (including battery and flipper weight). Its 12 BB-2590/U batteries have a runtime of 6–10 hours.



Lithos Robotics

The Lithos Robotics TacBot has a full suite of functions and is an all-weather robot that can be delivered, deployed and controlled by one person operating from a position of cover. Its reconnaissance capabilities use a boom-mounted 32X camera to stream to the command center from up to a mile line-of-sight (or farther with a Sentinel RSD acting as a digital repeater). It sends still photos or and video playback and is its own WiFi hotspot/digital radio repeater. The LED illuminator is built in.

Since the unit works with other Lithos Robotics Sentinels or TacBot Remote Infiltrator units, it can even be deployed by a robot. There is full integration through the company’s “CommandLink” series to share video and information among incident commanders, entry teams and scouts.


The robot can be operated using a standard Windows-based laptop or Apple iPhone or iPad, using the free software. Multiple robots can interoperate on the same callout.


Operating range is up to one mile line-of-sight from a Windows computer, or 1,000 feet line-of-sight from an iPhone or iPad.




The ReconRobotics Throwbot® XT is a versatile, robust and easy-to-use tactical robot that is inherently water and dust resistant. Weighing 1.2 pounds, the unit can be thrown up to 120 feet, and is quiet at just 22 decibels. An infrared optical system activates automatically in low light.


The unit can be directed to move through a structure as it transmits video and audio to the control unit for such tasks as locating suspects, confirming the presence of hostages, listening to conversations, or revealing the configuration of rooms. The unit can be purchased without audio capability, but can later be enabled for listening. Up to three robots can be used in the environment at the same time when different transmitting frequencies are used.


The Recon Scout® IR is the first throwable and mobile reconnaissance robot that can ‘see’ in complete darkness. Both lightweight and affordable, the Scout IR can be thrown through a window or doorway to move through a dark environment and transmit clear, real-time video to the operator’s control unit or a nearby command post.


The Recon Scout Throwbot LE is an affordable police robot, weighing 1.1 pounds for easy transport and use. It can survive horizontal throws of 50 feet and drops of 15 feet.


Operating at 20 decibels, it can transmit video up to 100 feet indoors or up to 300 feet outdoors. Video is clear even in low-light environments. The unit works with such accessories as the Command Monitoring Station, the 12-volt car charger, and the SearchStick™ pole that allows the unit to be converted into a pole camera.


The Recon Scout XL is a micro-robot, rugged enough for varied terrain. It provides both video and audio reconnaissance. Capable of climbing over 4-inch obstacles, the unit weighs only 1.4 pounds. It can be thrown 30 feet and dropped 15 feet. It features durability, infrared optics, and it is water resistance.


The Recon Scout UVI robot visually inspects undercarriages of vehicles, even in low light. Clear video is transmitted up to 1,000 feet to a command station, or up to 300 feet to a handheld control unit. It has auto-focus optics and a 60-degree field of view, and provides a direct, not reflected, view of the vehicle undercarriage.


While appropriate for permanent use, its size and portability adapt it to short-term security situations that temporarily require vehicle undercarriage inspection such as bomb threats, advance inspection of a motorcade route, or roadblocks or temporary checkpoints at large-scale events or particular facilities.




The Robotex Avatar® III Security Robot is useable in long-range surveillance, even hundreds of miles away from the central operations center. Using existing WiFi networks (2.4GHz spectrum), and recharging at remote docking stations, the Avatar III robots can be stationed in an area and activated quickly to inspect and report. The control software installs on a PC or Mac and uses a handheld controller for patrol and reconnaissance. Multiple incidents, simultaneous patrols, and remote communications can all be facilitated.


Stair-climbing ability, built-in IR night vision, 360-degree pan-tilt-zoom cameras, and a lightweight (25 pounds) and portable size (24.4 inches long by 15.4 inches wide by 6.14 inches tall) provide an efficient way to patrol routes, respond to alarms, or inspect incidents through manual control from a central location. Wireless, real-time video and two-way audio let the robot be used in a variety of applications, including as a mobile camera platform, public announcement system, or remote communication tool.


The Avatar III Tactical Robot is a rugged, but easy-to-use unit for quick and safe inspections. It has an up to five-hour battery life and 300-meter operating range. It weighs 25 pounds and is 24 x 15 x 6 inches. It features two-way audio and video recording capability and can navigate various terrains. It is especially appropriate for tactical callouts, high-risk warrants or domestic disturbance response, remote communication with hostile subjects, searching for missing persons, investigating suspicious packages or vehicles, or monitoring a large perimeter for hazardous fumes or materials.



Superdroid Robots

Superdroid manufactures in the USA a wide range of tactical and surveillance robots, and parts for robots, and can build a customized robot for a buyer’s particular needs. Its compact surveillance robots include the MLT “Jack Russell” that weighs less than 8 pounds and is drop resistant up to 10 feet. It easily fits in a bag or pack and can be deployed rapidly. The MLT-F has a rear flipper arm. Its camera is in the nose of the robot. The MLT-PT has a pan and tilt camera mounted atop the unit, and has no rear flipper arm. Both units can negotiate obstacles. Run time is up to four hours at 0–2 feet per second.


The LT2/LT2-F “Bloodhound” is a light surveillance robot capable of negotiating obstacles. The LT2-F has rear flipper stabilizer arms that lift the robot’s nose onto higher obstacles and act as stabilizers to prevent rollover. Accessories include the selection of a front tilt and IR camera, lights, audio, backup camera and storage case. Run time is up to eight hours at speeds of 0–5 feet per second. Weight is about 45 pounds.

The LT2/F “Bulldog” is a light-tracked robot with a multi-axis robotic arm that gives it even more versatility than the “Bloodhound” version. It can also be configured with additional cameras for the arm and rear of the unit, audio systems, and lights. It can run up to eight hours at 0–2.5 feet per second, and weighs about 70 pounds.


The HD2-S “Doberman” is the company’s heavy-duty surveillance robot, featuring a tracked design to tackle most obstacles. It has an optional 27x360 pan-tilt-zoom camera assembly with high-power LED lights for nearly all lighting conditions. Multiple cameras and operator control units are available, along with two-way audio. It runs up to eight hours at 0–4 feet per second and weighs about 75 pounds.

The HD2 “Mastiff” is a heavy-duty robot with a multi-axis arm, featuring a tracked design to overcome most obstacles. It can be equipped with a 27x360 degree pan-tilt-zoom camera. The arm is capable of lifting 20 pounds when fully extended. The unit can run up to eight hours at 0–2 feet per second. Weight is 110–150 pounds, depending on customization and configuration.

The UM4 “Retriever” is a surveillance robot with a built-in IR camera video system, control system and charging station, yet weighing only 14.5 pounds. Each wheel is driven by independent, high-rpm gear motors to make the unit agile and tough, yet discrete. Easily deployed, the unit runs up to eight hours at 0–5 feet per second.


Stephenie Slahor, Ph.D., J.D., writes in the fields of law enforcement and security. She can be reached at


Published in Tactical Response, Jan/Feb 2015

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