This is an understatement: Battlefields are unsafe. For troops wounded in combat, they need to get out of battle fast and to medical care. Historically that’s been the role of human medics, who bravely risk enemy fire to save their wounded comrades. That’s profoundly dangerous work, undertaken by humans because we haven’t, historically, had any other options. Earlier this week, Major General Steve Jones, commander of the Army Medical Department Center, said that in the future, we might send robots instead. Jones said:
The remarks came at a conference sponsored by the Association of the U.S. Army. Jones specifically mentioned the robots currently employed by bomb squads, as well as unmanned vehicles. The Pentagon has expressed interest in unmanned ambulances for years. A recent one is the Black Knight Transformer, an optionally manned craft that can fly like a quadcopter and drive like a truck.
If robots picking up soldiers from the battlefield feels like science fiction, that’s because it literally is. Last week, War is Boring editor and longtime defense journalist David Axe’s short story “It’s Going To Be Okay” about this very thing was published by Motherboard. Here’s a relevant excerpt:
Evacuating casualties was only one of the roles for robots in battlefield medicine that Jones discussed. Another option is delivering medical supplies to dangerous areas, supporting troops operating behind enemy lines. To some extent we already have this, thanks to the Snowgoose powered glider, but future drones could do more, like deliver specific medicines or even blood. In the battlefields of tomorrow, when troops call for help, the cavalry that comes may be robots.