Foster-Miller’s first combat robot was a TALON Explosive Ordinance Disposal (“EOD”) robot that was retrofitted with a gun and they called it SWORDS.

Foster-Miller decided to design and build another robot that was designed to be armed. The Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (“MAARS”) has a few features well established in the wired battlefield. It knows where all the friendlies are and it communicates where it is so that other connected soldiers exclude it as a target. MAARS can be configured to recognize fire and no-fire zones for additional safety.

You can see a brief video of MAARS in action here.


The Singularity Summit is a two day event happening this weekend in San Francisco. The event is being hosted by SIAI, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. This event is follow-on to last year’s Singularity Summit 1 conducted at Stanford.

Keynoting the event this morning was Rodney Brooks , of CSAIL and iRobot fame. Brooks spent his presentation discussing his perspective on the Singularity, and how Robotics (in particular the robots of iRobot and MIT) are advancing the science of Singularity enabling technologies.

Several times, Brooks referenced Arthur C. Clarke. He referenced Clarke’s quote of how technology capability is generally over estimated in the short-term, and underestimated in the long-term. This, Brooks believes is the most accurate perspective of what the Singularity is, and when it will come about.

Regardless of The Singularity, Brooks makes a persuasive case that “the future needs AI and robotics”. He referenced demographic trends – the aging global population, as the primary driver for a coming explosion in personal robotics. Brooks sees a near term future filled with venture financing and government funding to backfill the workforce of an aging and wealthy populous.

Brooks makes the case for applying exponential growth models to robotics. He used the iPod as a metaphor for exponential growth – forecasting that the iPod will hold the contents of the Library of Congress by 2013 and all movies ever made by 2020. In fact Brooks postulated the price / performance ratio for the iPod is calculated as:

$400 = 2 ^(year-2003) x 10 gigabytes

Brooks applied the model to autonomous robotic vehicles and referenced Stanford. He showed a video of a 1978 Robot cart that autonomously navigated 20 meters in 6 hours. Then noted that Stanley drove itself the length of the race in 6 hours in the Darpa Grand Challenge. He indicated that this means that the distance of autonomous guidance has doubled every 2 years.

Regarding iRobot:

  • Brooks confirmed that there more than 2.5 million IRBT consumer robots have be purchased.
  • Confirmed that there are 1000 Packbots in the field. He mentioned that this is out of a total of 5000 robots in the theaters of Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • He clarified that there are no armed Packbots in the field. He referenced the Talon as the primary platform currently being used for armament. He asked a rhetorical question about “when should robots have autonomous weapon targeting”?
  • He showed a set of pictures of a destroyed Packbot named “Scooby Doo” by its handler that was credited with over 15 disarmaments of IEDs.
  • He responded to a question about whether it was an ethically good idea to be developing AI and advanced robot platforms for the US Government. He deflected the question and stated that scientists must be mindful of the impact of their inventions.
  • Brooks was asked about why IRBT stock took a hit when it was announced that they are raising their R&D spending on commercial applications. He again deferred to comment specifically, but did note that he believes that there is a crisis in spending in R&D in the US. “This is a real issue, as companies get beaten down for putting money into R&D”. He notes that he has an article on this topic being published on on Monday.
  • Regarding emotional attachment to iRobot robots: Emotional attachment not a factor in military space. But is in home space. Where is Facebook for Robots? “Projection onto these devices that they don’t really deserve from a rational point of view, but we are not rational human beings.”

Regarding CSAIL Robots:

  • He spent time showing off the various emotional responses of Kismet. He discussed the visual attention system and illustrated the 3D emotional matrix used by the bot.
  • He also showed videos of Domo, a thesis project from Aaron Edsinger. Ednger has a new company in San Francisco called Meka Robotics, based on Domo research. A key concept is awareness of forces. Many movies of Domo are available on YouTube.


WALTHAM, MA, August 29, 2007 – Foster-Miller , Inc., a QinetiQ North America company, announced today that the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division (NAVEODTECHDIV) in Indian Head, MD, has raised the ceiling of its $257 million IDIQ (indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity) contract to $290 million and ordered another $37 million of TALON® EOD robots and replacement parts. Total funding actually released from this contract now stands at $165 million.This is the second major funding award for TALON robots announced this month. Foster-Miller announced the receipt of delivery orders totaling $51 million against the Robotic Systems Joint Program Office (RSJPO) IDIQ contract administered by the Naval Air Warfare Training Systems Division (NAVAIR) for TALON robots and replacement parts two weeks ago.

NAVEODTECHDIV is the single service manager for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and purchases EOD robots for the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines. The RSJPO procures some EOD robots, but also supplies non-EOD TALONs to other parts of the military and staffs the Robot Hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Once again, we thank NAVEODTECHDIV for its continuing support of our TALON robots,” Dr. William Ribich, president and CEO said. “We join with them in their determination to provide our troops with all the equipment they need for their vital missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

About Foster-Miller

Foster-Miller, Inc., is a technology and product development company with an international reputation for delivering innovative products and systems that perform under the most demanding conditions. The firm was founded in 1956 by three graduates of MIT who believed there was a need for a company that could solve clients’ difficult technical problems through first-class analysis and design. Foster-Miller is certified to Aerospace Quality Management Standard AS9100 and has SW-CMM Level 3 software certification from the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. In November 2004, Foster-Miller became a wholly owned subsidiary of QinetiQ North America.

About QinetiQ North America

QinetiQ North America provides world-class technology and responsive solutions to U.S. government customers. More than 5,300 engineers and technologists work in partnership with customers to develop innovative technology solutions to meet the challenges of national defense, homeland security and information access. QinetiQ North America is part of QinetiQ Group plc, one of the world’s leading defense and security technology companies. For more information, please visit

[According to the Naval Joint Robotics Website Tech Database, these puppies go for about $60K a pop which is about 600 robots. That’s a lot of gear. Excellent.–Ed.]

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