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.

The first phase of development is to create the sensors for detecting humans and to conduct feasibility experiments. Then comes the building of a prototype with fully functional sensors. At that point, a third phase would try to establish whether a pack of such robots — about three to five in number — could realistically be used for missions involving, according to the proposal, “search and rescue, fire-fighting, reconnaissance, and automated biological, chemical, and radiation sensing with mobile platforms.”

Part of the latter phase would involve the robots moving through an obstacle course and making search-and-rescue decisions, maintaining awareness of and line-of-site with a subject. Limited information is available about the program’s mandate, but the proposal‘s topic number indicates that it is a U.S. Army project, from which one could infer that the robots would be used in military missions.

Robot drones are currently used as unmanned aircraft to provide early warning in combat. In the past, military officials have noted that robots would likely not be used to replace soldiers on the battlefield because of the ethical dilemmas involved.