Dec. 12 - A Connecticut-based company is putting Swedish technology to work with a spherical robot called the Guardbot, designed for surveillance and rescue missions. While it's not yet commercially available, the rolling robot's developers say it's already attracting interest from a wide range of customers. Sharon Reich reports.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS 4:3 MATERIAL It's a robot, camera and a security system -- all rolled into one. Licensed as the "Gaurdbot" to Connecticut-based American Unmanned Systems, the technology was originally developed in Sweden to serve as an electronic set of eyes. In the not too distant future, it could be patrolling airports or performing surveillance underwater. The robot's unique spherical shape allows it to move easily in varied terrain, according to company president, Peter Muhlrad. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PETER MUHLRAD, PRESIDENT OF AMERICAN UNMANNED SYSTEMS, SAYING: "Basically it rolls and there is a low point of gravity in the ball and that means that it can accelerate quite fast. it can move into a snowy situation or a muddy situation or high grass and can compensate for caving in the grass in the flat area for instance... can move in and out of those. It can move in and out of those. in water its completely sealed and again with a low center of gravity it makes it suitable for water. The robot is remote controlled. An internal GPS guides it as it rolls quietly along at speeds of up to 10 kilometers per hour. Engineer George Thalheim says it negotiates obstacles with an internal control system that keeps the robot balanced and heading in the desired direction. (SOUNDBITE) (English) AMERICAN UNMANNED SYSTEMS SENIOR ENGINEER GEORGE THALHEIM SAYING: "This is the brain of the robot, it consists of a standard PC104, a GPS and a number of other sensors and the radios and so forth. This is placed inside the ball roughly here and then the batteries and the motor, which are heavier are placed lower down." The research and development team say the robot would be ideal for use in search and rescue missions or areas of high radioactivity where it's too dangerous for humans to go. But they also point to a commercial use for their machine on the sidelines at sports events. The company has already tested it at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, where it served dual roles as an action playback provider and rolling advertising billboard seen by thousands of sports fans. And Muhlrad says it doesn't stop there. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PETER MUHLRAD, PRESIDENT OF AMERICAN UNMANNED SYSTEMS, SAYING: "We are actually right now looking at making it double the current size. We believe can get it up to diameter of three yards and that would enable us to put people into the Guardbot and make it into a vehicle." While the drivable Guardbot may be some years away, Muhlrad and his team expect the technology to be ready for market in just six months, although he says you probably won't see Guardbot before Guardbot sees you. Sharon Reich, Reuters