Robots, rappelling, rifles: Showcase of special ops gadgets

By TAMARA LUSH Features Associated Press

It's like a supermarket for Navy SEALs. A grocery store for Green Berets. A Costco for commandoes.

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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.

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UNDER THE SEA

Deep Trekker is a Canadian company that sells underwater drones. 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.

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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 materials.

Smith, a Marine, looked around the trade show floor. "I would say that this room is probably filled with the world's best in class warriors, yes."

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A SIMPLER RIFLE

Gabriele de Plano of gunmaker Beretta showed off a new rifle — a soldier doesn't have to carry around a ton of batteries for the rifle's components.

"Overall, we're simplifying the system; we're adding capabilities with what the soldier can do with his assault rifle," de Plano said. The rifle's components run on six AA batteries

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SPIDEY SENSE

Jeffry Pietersz of the Netherlands-based TAGS-Systems not only sells things that will help soldiers rappel up and down buildings but is also a little like Spiderman himself.

"When a special forces team wants to enter a ship, they use one of our compact launchers to shoot a grapnel and hook onto a ship with a rope attached," Pieterz explained, tugging on a device and a rope attached high into the convention center rafters. "And if they want to climb the ship, they can use one of our power ascenders to assault it. This is a battery-powered ascender — it has an exchangeable battery, and it has a lifting capacity of 150 kilograms. Optimized for a fully equipped operator. It will hoist yourself up 60 meters per minute."

With that, he zipped into the air.