If the idea of being hunted by an unmanned aerial drone is unnerving the thought of multiple robots planning a coordinated attack is downright frightening. Unfortunately for those who have to worry about such things, the DoD is working on software tools that allow robots in the sky and on the ground to do exactly that.
America's fleet of flying military robots possess a variety of mission-critical capabilities—their speed and range allow them to quickly cover a lot of ground, and their sensor arrays can pick out ground targets in daylight or darkness—but they can't do much to locate potential targets hiding indoors. But just try hiding from the Cougar20-H. The highly-sensitive ground-based 'bot can hear you breathing—through a wall.
Northrop's heavy-duty hauler CaMEL has been a success, scoring contracts from Israel and serious interest from the U.S. Army. But why haul miscellaneous stuff when you can haul a giant gun instead?
The hauler is named the Carry-all Mechanized Equipment Landrover--yeah, that spells out CaMEL. It's a 60-inch-tall treaded vehicle capable of carrying an impressive 1,200 pounds of stuff, and its usefulness in the field is proven by its popularity. Israel has bought more than 60 of them, and the U.S. Army is looking into its possibilities as well.
Snake-like robots are nothing new -- for instance, Virginia Tech has developed some pretty amazing pole-climbing snakebots, and the Israeli military has a weaponized recon 'bot in the works -- but the U.S. Army Research Lab is taking military snakebots to a new level. Its Robotic Tentacle Manipulator is using snakebot tech to develop a scalable system in which several robots work in unison to manipulate objects.
Not that soldiers on the North Korean side of the demilitarized zone can read this tale of Western decadence, but if they could they would do well to take note: South Korea has deployed two $334,000 robotic sentries armed with automatic weapons and 40-millimeter grenade launchers along the tense border region bisecting the Korean peninsula.
A newly formed International Committee on Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) has asked nations to ban military bots from space and prevent robots from toting nuclear weapons. No doubt, human characters from science fiction stories such as "Battlestar Galactica" and "Terminator" might agree.
iRobot's multipurpose PackBot has helped lead the way among war-bots, disabling improvised explosives and carrying out recon missions for snipers. But soon paperback-sized robots such as the Ember prototype could join their larger cousins on the battlefield.
The Department of Defense has put out a call: design a pack of robots. A so-called Multi-Robot Pursuit System would be used to "search for and detect a non-cooperative human subject." Each robot has to weigh 100 kilograms or less, act autonomously (with a human squad leader), negotiate obstacles, and provide immediate feedback. The robots would report back to a human operator, and defer to that human when the robot AI determines that a "difficult decision" is required.