By CNN Sr. National Security Producer Charley Keyes
A Massachusetts company best known for its home vacuum robots is also equipping the U.S. military with larger, hardier models to check roadside bombs and discover insurgent ambushes on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The manufacturer IRobot was showing off its new "tactical unmanned ground vehicle" in Washington Friday as it and many other defense companies prepare for a major exhibition next week.
"Robots are putting distance between our service men and women and danger," IRobot's chief operating officer, retired Vice Adm. Joseph Dyer, told CNN. "They have saved scores and scores of lives."
The version he was showing off in the luxurious second floor of the Army Navy Club a few blocks from the White House was outfitted with two cameras and was able to right itself if it overturned in harsh terrain. It's easy for one soldier to lift. It can go as fast as 5 mph. If it loses communications with the fighter manipulating its video-game-like controls, it can back up on its own to reconnect. Price tag: $100,000.
Some 4,000 similar robots are serving around the world, including in Japan, where they are surveying damage from the nuclear disaster.
In previous days an American soldier facing an improvised explosive device might have to put on an awkward bomb disposal suit and waddle forward to go face-to-face with the IED, Dyer said.
"Today you don't have to do that. You can send a robot."