It's small, it's sturdy and someday every soldier may have one.
Consumer- and military-robot manufacturer iRobot has made a little "cousin" of its famous Packbot that's small enough to fit in a pocket, weighs less than a pound, clambers almost anywhere and forms ad-hoc wireless networks with its kin.
It's been made under a Pentagon contract to develop "LANdroids," small, automatically networking communications and surveillance robots.
Called the "Ember," the robot runs on reversible treads and has two flippers on one end to get it over obstacles and right itself. It's got a tiny camera mounted on one side, and an antenna mount. It's even got its own Facebook photo album.
Instead of lugging around a big, heavy Packbot that needs its own support team, each soldier in a squad of GIs could carry an Ember in his cargo pocket.
When the unit wants to check out a suspicious building without risking hostile fire, it could send in a swarm of Embers, then monitor what the bots beamed back from their video cameras.
"Ultimately, the goal is make the little robots so easy to use and so cheap that they're considered disposable," writes Wired's Danger Room blog. "And that could change the way soldiers wage urban war."