Send In The Radio Droids

Tactical radio communications in urban areas suffer due to buildings which reflect or absorb signals, making it difficult for troops to communicate. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Information Processing Technology Office wants to try to solve this problem with a program aimed at developing robotic autonomous radio relay nodes it calls LANdroids.

DARPA envisions a disposable LANdroid slightly larger than a size of a pack of playing cards, weighing just over two pounds with enough built-in smarts to sense the best location to relay a radio signal and enough built in power to scoot around on a set of tracked wheeled. Here’s what it might look like:


On top of the technical challenges of the droid project, DARPA wants industry help to develop really cheap droids -- about $100 in a modest production runs of 1,000 units -- that troops can toss or place on the ground as they move through an urban area.

LANdroids, DARPA said in a background pamphlet for potential bidders, should have enough built in software intelligence to self-organize and be able to adjust their positions for the best signal strength.

If one LANdroid in a network is destroyed by an enemy, then other droids should go into a “self-healing” mode with neighboring droids moving to fill in the coverage gaps, DARPA said. LANdroid power management software must be intelligent enough to make an explicit decision on whether to move or not move and balance power demands of radio transmission and movement.

DARPA has divided the droid project into two basic parts -- LANdroids Control Software and LANdroids robot development -- and interested bidders with some really smart, miniature C-3PO buddies should get their proposals in by Aug. 16.