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Robots, Rappelling, Rifles: Showcase of Special Ops Gadgets

It’s like a supermarket for Navy SEALs. A grocery store for Green Berets. A Costco for commandoes. It’s a conference for military special operations forces and their gadgets, weapons and tools. The Special Operations Forces Industry Conference is held yearly in Tampa. Here, the U.S. Special Operations Command — the Tampa-based unit that oversees all of the nation’s elite military teams — shops for equipment.

Lantern-jawed Marines in camo mingle with computer geeks in chinos who run complex intel programs on the convention floor. Panels such as “Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit Sessions” are popular, and alphabet soup acronyms are common in casual conversation (“Are you going to the USSOCOM J-Code Directors Panel?”).

Outside the convention center, maritime displays of sleek boats with mounted weapons cruise by, and underwater drones surface.

Prototypes of new gadgets and gear are showcased. Robots, holograms, tanks, lethal weapons — it’s all on display.

Here are some of the interesting gadgets that were on the trade show floor during the weeklong event, which wraps up Friday.


Under the Sea

Deep Trekker is a Canadian company that sells underwater drones [pictured above: Deep Trekker DTG2]. The small grey cylinders with cameras can be remote-controlled on land or in the water, and Sam MacDonald, president, says the device can dive down 150 meters — it’s great for hull inspection or contraband, checking out port security.

“We’ve also had it used in the Special Forces, for things they can’t really tell us a lot about,” she said.


Not Your Household Robot

Joseph Smith of Massachusetts-based Endeavor Robotics smiled patiently when a reporter asked whether his company’s robots were in any way like the ubiquitous Roomba vacuums. At more than $100,000 each, the 510 Packbot overcomes stairs, obstacles and debris. It can reach speeds of 5.8 MPH (9.3 KM/H); perform bomb disposal, surveillance and reconnaissance; and detect hazardous…

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