To many people, "military robots" mean unmanned aerial or ground vehicles. Many military robots fit these categories, but some go way beyond this definition.
For example, we've reported before on Boston Dynamics robots that mimic human, animal, and insect movements. The Georgia Institute of Technology's Scalybots mimic a snake's movements. Designers of these tactical robots are trying to come up with small machines with rugged design, multiple data collection and communication methods, long battery life, the ability to negotiate rough terrain, and, in some cases, lifting and grasping capabilities. The goal is to go where humans can't without risking their lives.
Click on the image below to start a slideshow highlighting 14 robotic soldiers.
The Machine Lab's MMP-30 Mechanical Mobile Platform is used for explosive ordnance disposal in Iraq. It weighs 50 pounds (including control unit), measures about 23 inches long when collapsed, and can be carried in a backpack. Its pan/tilt color infrared camera has 180-degree pan and 150-degree tilt. The robot also sports a color, wide-angle gripper camera and a color, wide-angle rear-facing camera. The four-axis arm has a 20-inch reach and can lift five pounds at full extension. (Source: The Machine Lab)
I doubt such a conflict would be strictly robot-versus-robot. Firstly because most recent wars have pitted a technically advanced country against a much less advanced enemy. Second, either side's robots would target the enemy's people and cities rather than robots, except when the enemy robot blocked its mission.
Compare this with aerial warfare, say in WWII. The air forces were out to bomb the opponent's cities and factories. They engaged enemy aircraft mainly when they were sent up as interceptors.
Are these robots under direct radio control, or are they at least partly autonomous?
Armed autonomous robots present serious ethical and political problems, especially if they make "mistakes" and harm non-enemies or destroy civilian property. Who is responsible for such war crimes? Or do we just write them off as "Well, it's only a robot"?
I often wondered that if we ever had a true robotic war (only robot against robot) and one side "wins", destroyed the other side's robots, would the loser surrender? Or would the loser continue to fight with the old life-costing methods.
I have design many different circuits for military applications and especially enjoy the ones that help keep solider safe like these robots. It is always interesting to see the different styles, uses and abilities of robots. The mental picture I now get when I hear the word robot looks nothing like it did when I was a child.
Just wondering.... I noticed that some of these are clearly experimental while others say that they are in use in Iraq or other tactical locations. Are those in use actual "production run" type robots or are they more of an experimental variety in which the manufacturer gave a couple to the goverment as a means of getting feedback from a real-life application?
Beth, always appreciate your insights. I think the future of war is pretty clear at least from the US persepctive. It's all a big video game. As the old quote goes, "He who dies with the most toys - wins!"
I should have been more specific also on which iRobot image I was referring to. I was referring to the last image (#14). That is the one that looks like the Surveyor. The 110 FirstLook was the closest I found on the iRobot site looking for a similar robot. It is a pretty cool little guy. I like the Recon Scout Throwbot shown because it a different style (though the tail did make it a little less cool, though easier to try to replicate at home).
I look forward to the search and rescue slide show. From this slide show, it looks like the future is here. Are these developments recent? These robots seemed advanced way beyond the experimental stages. Is the military driving these developments? Or is it vendors that have a sufficient market to invest in this complexity?
David, thanks for clarifying your comment. Yes, iRobot makes a lot more than we could show, including that little 110 you linked to. The Surveyor you linked to is a different robot from the iRobot 510--thanks for that info. I'm especially interested in it since it's open source. Also, I noticed when putting this slideshow together that some of these models from different manufacturers built for the same purposes look a lot alike and share many very similar features and specs.
It won't be too much longer and hardware design, as we used to know it, will be remembered alongside the slide rule and the Karnaugh map. You will need to move beyond those familiar bits and bytes into the new world of software centric design.
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