By Calvin Biesecker

iRobot [IRBT] yesterday introduced a new robot to its product line aimed at providing public safety and civil security agencies with a low cost, tactical platform that can accommodate several surveillance and chemical detection upgrades for improved reconnaissance.

Priced at under $20,000 for the basic unit, the Negotiator is a result of the demand from budget conscious public safety agencies around the country who can’t afford the company’s well known ruggedized PackBot series of reconnaissance robots used by the United States military, iRobot said.

"It allows basic entry robotics to be used by a much broader audience," Jim Rymarcsuk, vice president of sales, marketing and alliances, iRobot, Government and Industrial Division, told Defense Daily. The cost for a Negotiator is between 20 and 25 percent of the price for a PackBot, he said.

The man-portable Negotiator is similar in size and profile to the PackBot and features the same tracked flippers that enable the military robot to easily climb stairs, move over obstacles and pivot upward slightly. The battery powered robot comes equipped with a high resolution color camera mounted internally in the front of the chassis along with a infrared (IR) light emitting diode array for illumination to provide basic reconnaissance capabilities. It also allows for two-way communications.

Upgrades to the Negotiator for more robust public safety applications include a pan/tilt day and night camera mounted on top of the chassis, a low light IR illuminated camera system, a rear-mounted fixed day and night camera system, a rear-mounted light, and a MultiRAE Plus Gas Monitor Detection system, which is supplied by RAE Systems [RAE].

The Negotiator isn’t as rugged as the PackBot, meaning it’s not made to be thrown through windows and into buildings, Rymarcsuk said.

iRobot does currently sell into the civil market with a PackBot outfitted with a first responder kit for hazardous materials and bomb disposal teams. However, Negotiator opens up the civil market to a larger number of pubic safety agencies such as police, fire and rescue that could would like a tactical robotic reconnaissance platform, Rymarcsuk said.

"The Negotiator will allow us to grow much faster in the civil market," Rymarcsuk said.

iRobot expects to begin shipping units in the fourth quarter of 2008. The company began giving quotes on potential orders shortly after the product announcement, Rymarcsuk said. The Negotiator has been going through a series of ongoing operational evaluations by certain public safety agencies, he said. The unit can be operated remotely from about 800 feet.