June 19, 2005, Updated September 13, 2012

The Eye Ball R1 – ‘We understand what an officer or soldier needs to enable him to do his job better and more safely.’Imagine an American soldier in Iraq on a mission. He needs to enter a building, but has no way of knowing if it’s occupied by a member of the Iraqi opposition forces. He throws a ball-shaped device into the building, and a few feet away on a remote screen monitor, he receives a 360-degree view of the room.

Sound like a James Bond fantasy? Tel Aviv-based ODF Optronics has made it a reality – and its mechanical eye, dubbed the Eye Ball R1 – is going to make law enforcement agencies in the US and around the world breathe a little easier from now on.

The Eye Ball R1 – a palm-sized, camera-laden device was designed to be thrown into environments deemed too risky for personnel to enter, like collapsed buildings or for counter-terrorism operations. Capable of producing a 360 degree view, it works by dispatching images wirelessly to a remote receiver, according to company spokesman Shimon Greenberg.

“We basically deal with developing solutions that will help tactical units receive better information,” he told ISRAEL21c. “We were established by former members of the Israeli Defense Ministry’s R&D unit, and we understand what an officer or soldier needs to enable him to do his job better and more safely.”

The Eye Ball R1 was developed specifically for use by military Special Operations (SPECOPS), law enforcement SWAT/SRT operations, anti-terrorism/counterterrorism operations, and hostage rescue operations. According to an article in Defense Review, due to its rugged construction, the Eye Ball R1 can be rolled, tossed, or thrown wherever necessary. Once deployed, the system can capture video out to 25 yards away and audio up to a distance of 5 yards, and then broadcast both up to 200 yards wirelessly back to a large remote control device called a Personal Display Unit (PDU) and color video screen, operated by the tactical operator.

The camera can gather information on the number of entrances and exits, barricades, tripwires and even the state of mind of hostages, the Defense Review article reported. The Eye Ball R1’s omni-directional camera rotates at 4 rpm until a target is identified, and then gives the operator a 55-degree horizontal and 41-degree vertical field of view, as well as near-infrared (IR) spectrum night vision capability for low-light deployment/night operations.

The device can also be mounted on a mobile robot, remote-viewing, pole, or any other relevant tactical device. Once it’s tossed, it remains static after landing. Only the camera rotates. If the EyeBall R1 lands upside down, the operator can flip the video feed in order to view things right-side-up.

Defense industry journal Defense Review praised the Eye Ball R1 operation technique and said that “the Israelis keep coming up with new and innovative tactical technologies.”

Co-founded by two computer-vision engineers Ehud Gal and Natan Merom, O.D.F Optronics specializes in “vision-based products for defense and security applications” – specifically in the design, development, and marketing of electro-optic systems, omni-directional imaging systems, omni-directional optics, and image processing and image understanding software. Development of the Eye Ball R1 was handled by O.D.F. Optronics’ defense division.

Gal and Merom explained that they thought of the concept for the Eye Ball R1 because existing periscope-like technologies used in tanks limited the view to 270 degrees at best. This made soldiers and their vehicles vulnerable to surprise attacks.

Gal and Merom originally designed a camera that could be mounted onto military vehicles, poles and structures but could also be remotely manipulated. They later expanded the camera’s use by making it tossable, rollable and tough enough to withstand battlefield conditions.

According to Greenberg, ODF recently signed a marketing deal in the US with weapons giants Remington Technologies, a division of Remington Arms Company, Ltd., which is aggressively marketing the product in the US.

“The Eye Ball provides safety by providing law enforcement and military personnel with higher degrees of visibility and insight into their environments,” Asher Gendelman, spokesman for Remington, told Wired magazine. And the Eye Ball has gained a lot of friends among US law officials.

“If you’re pursuing someone who may have hidden in an attic or a crawl space, cabinet, a basement or parking garage – a lot of policemen are assaulted when they pop their heads in, without knowing where the suspects are,” said Ron Cottingham, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California and a San Diego police officer.

“You never know what’s going to happen on the job,” said Cottingham. “Two uniformed police officers responding to a domestic-disturbance call earlier this year were shot and killed just walking up to the house. The more information they have before going into a volatile situation, the better.”

Although the main users of the Eye Ball are expected to be law enforcement, the device might also be useful for other first responders — firefighters, emergency medical technicians and search-and-rescue teams.

“We thought about 9/11 and the tsunami,” said Gendelman.

The Eye Ball is being tested by more than 20 law enforcement agencies in the US, according to Gendelman, and its distributors have demonstrated the Eye Ball to law enforcement agencies in the UK, France, Turkey, Italy and Russia.

“In the next few months we will introduce the products throughout Europe and it can be expected that by the end of the year we will start getting orders from European agencies,” said Greenberg.

“Some agencies that already use robots, which can cost upward of $160,000, are arming their expensive droids with Eye Balls to protect their investments,” Gendelman told Wired.

The Eye Ball, which sells for about $1,500, will be sold directly to the Department of Defense and other government agencies, search-and-rescue teams and state, federal and local police departments. Remington will not sell the Eye Ball to individuals.

Greenberg said that by the end of the year, he expects dozens of US law enforcement agencies to be equipped with the Eye Ball. And that will give them a ‘seeing-eye’ edge over the bad guys.

(Based on a report in Defense Review)

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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