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WASHINGTON—You know you’re visiting a different kind of trade show when the signs for the new GUI on a product refer to an automatic weapon. You get a better idea when you find yourself standing beneath the main gun of the new Stryker mobile weapons system. But it really hits home when you visit the usually benign world of iRobot and find not Roombas, but instead autonomous killing machines.

That’s right. There’s nothing quite like having a friendly robot nuzzle up to you, only to look down on a pair of fully automatic, autoloading, remotely controlled 12-gauge shotguns swiveling around. A few feet away, more shotguns, and a little further away, a larger, diesel-powered, autonomous robot packing a 30-caliber machine gun set up for totally automated operation. “So,” I ask iRobot Chairman Helen Greiner, who is showing me her collection of military hardware, “can you send the one with the shotguns out for a couple of ducks for dinner?”

Greiner said that while the new shotgun packin’ robots probably could bag a waterfowl or two, they were really designed for more serious tasks. And indeed they were. The robots appearing at the Association of the Unites States Army show at the Washington Convention Center here Oct. 10 are designed, and in some cases being used today, to do jobs that soldiers would otherwise have to do. In the process, these robots save lives and help extend the effectiveness of the troops that use them.

Incidentally, if a few of these robots look familiar, it’s because the same basic design is also used by iRobot when it makes those robots you see on television disarm bombs, fight fires or search for victims of a building collapse. We did not see, unfortunately, anything we could use to clean out the basement. Some tasks, it seems, are too much for even the most capable robot.

Click here to view images of the new robots.