Other robots are designed to physically remove a suspect object and detonate it further away. Lesser said the robot early Monday may have been performing a controlled explosion and it wasn't far enough away.
Robots now have more sophisticated sensor packages to detect explosive material or toxic chemicals. They are also being programmed with more autonomous decision-making algorithms that allow them to perform several tasks at once, Lesser said.
"A robot would detect what it is, then user can manage the risk," Lesser said.
In the future, we're likely to see improvement in how police are able to control these robots, according to Howie Choset, professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute.
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That could include some kind of virtual reality environment that allows for greater user awareness, or perhaps a haptic glove for greater remote sensory perception.
I would like to see what these robots can do with very little additional cost in technology," Choset said. "You can create three-dimensional maps of the environment and the user can fly through those maps, like "The Matrix."
He also sees a time when the joystick controller, which has become ubiquitous in human-robot interfaces, is replaced by something else. Instead of controlling the joystick with your hand, the user would click on an image and the robot arm goes to where it wants.
While improvements might be better or more efficient, Choset says that sometimes change is difficult for humans.
"Would the users embrace the technology?" he asked. "People are very used to their own stuff."
Endeavor Robotics president Tom Frost said that the fact that the robot in New Jersey exploded means that it did its job. The firm has one of its devices sent back from Iraq in tiny pieces.
"That is a robot that went down and there wasn't a warfighter that went down," Frost said. "We consider that success."
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