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Battlefield robot can detect snipers

A new version of a robot used in Iraq and Afghanistan is being developed to locate the source of sniper fire.
REDOWL, Robot Enhanced Detection Outpost with Laser, is on display at the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army, in Washington.Lawrence Jackson / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The maker of a track-wheeled robot used in Iraq and Afghanistan is developing a version designed to locate the source of sniper fire.

IRobot Corp.'s joint project with Boston University's Photonics Center could protect soldiers by helping them quickly locate snipers and either steer clear of them or fire back.

Although the robot is meant solely as a defensive measure, its ability to calculate the target's distance using laser and infrared light could ultimately lead others to build a new generation of robots that can fire weapons.

The sniper-detecting technology, paired with iRobot's track-wheeled, bomb-disarming PackBot, made its first public appearance this week at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

In field tests last month at a firing range, the system located the source of gunfire from over 100 meters away 94 percent of the time, its developers say.

The system pairs optical equipment from Insight Technology Inc. with acoustic sensors from BioMimetic Systems.  The devices are built into in a book-sized metal box weighing about 5 pounds and mounted atop an arm extending from a PackBot.

While the system isn't yet ready for deployment, Cambridge-based BBN Technologies produces a sniper detector called Boomerang that already is deployed in Iraq.

That system uses acoustic sensors attached to a Humvee vehicle or at a site such as a guard post to track sources of sniper fire.