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[infowar.de] Robots May Fight for the Army
Robots May Fight for the Army
By Mark Baard
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,63036,00.html
02:00 AM Apr. 13, 2004 PT
Lightweight, super-strong robots will lead human soldiers into battle
within 10 years -- at least according to iRobot.
The robots, called small unmanned ground vehicles, or SUGVs, will detect
the presence of chemical and biological weapons, identify targets for
artillery and infantrymen, and ferret out snipers hiding inside urban
buildings. Today, humans mainly perform these tasks, often becoming the
first casualties of battle while looking for snipers or explosives.
The SUGV (pronounced "sug-vee") will be a smaller and lighter version of
the PackBot, a 42-pound robot with tanklike rubber treads designed by
iRobot, a company based in Burlington, Massachusetts.
IRobot, which was co-founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology
roboticist Rodney Brooks, is the same company that developed the Roomba
robot vacuum cleaner.
American soldiers are already using PackBots to search inside caves in
Afghanistan, and to remove roadside bombs in Iraq. A PackBot proved its
worth last week when it uncovered a bomb in Iraq and was destroyed in the
"One robot was blown up," said retired Vice Adm. Joe Dyer, general manager
of iRobot's government and industrial robotics division. "That was a cause
for celebration, because the robot saved the life of a soldier."
Urban warfare is dirty business, as the Army's experience in Fallujah,
Iraq, shows. Soldiers piling into narrow doorways are particularly
vulnerable to gunfire, and snipers are hard to spot once their shots begin
echoing throughout apartment blocks.
But soldiers in the future, the Army hopes, will be able to pull SUGVs
from their backpacks and drop the robots through the windows of buildings
where enemies may be hiding.
IRobot wants to bring the weight of the SUGV down to 25 pounds (not
including its robot arm) while retaining sturdiness. The PackBot, for
example, can be dropped onto concrete from a height of about 6 feet. The
company said one PackBot survived a 30-foot drop from a cliff.
As they do with PackBots today, soldiers will operate the SUGVs remotely,
with rugged laptops and handheld computers, and through wireless or
fiber-optic links. Targeting systems, chemical and biological sensors, and
other devices, which are being developed by Raytheon, will operate at the
end of the SUGV's robotic arm.
SUGVs will be one of 18 networked components in the U.S. Army's $14.7
billion Future Combat Systems program, which will include manned and
unmanned ground and aerial vehicles, as well as new sensor systems. IRobot
this week signed a $32 million deal with leading contractors to develop
Future Combat Systems program leaders envision a future of highly mobile
and flexible "units of action," consisting of manned and unmanned combat
Watch a video simulation of the SUGV in combat.
(13-MB file, requires Windows Media Player)
The Army will be able to deploy these units "from bases in the United
States directly into the open desert," said retired Lt. Gen. Daniel
Zanini, corporate vice president at Science Applications International."It
will ensure the U.S. remains the world's dominant force for land combat."
Science Applications International, along with Boeing, is the lead systems
integrator for Future Combat Systems.
Some of the robots that are being developed may also be used to shoot at
human targets, iRobot suggested. But the company said SUGVs will provide
advanced reconnaissance first. The company does not want to be seen as
putting human soldiers out of business.
Robot vision systems have serious limitations, and the risk that a robot
might kill an innocent civilian is too great, said iRobot CEO Colin Angle.
But Angle did not rule out the eventual use of weapons on robots, and
noted that Raytheon is developing a targeting system for the SUGV.
"We're not using these robots to hand out flowers," Angle said.
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