Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Wired Article On Heavily Armed Robots.

I love this place. We are beginning to field some really cool stuff:

ORLANDO, Florida -- Hunting for guerillas, handling roadside bombs, crawling across the caves and crumbling towns of Afghanistan and Iraq -- all of that was just a start. Now, the Army is prepping its squad of robotic vehicles for a new set of assignments. And this time, they'll be carrying guns.

As early as March or April, 18 units of the Talon -- a model armed with automatic weapons -- are scheduled to report for duty in Iraq. Around the same time, the first prototypes of a new, unmanned ambulance should be ready for the Army to start testing. In a warren of hangar-sized hotel ballrooms in Orlando, military engineers this week showed off their next generation of robots, as they got the machines ready for the war zone.

"Putting something like this into the field, we're about to start something that's never been done before," said Staff Sgt. Santiago Tordillos, waving to the black, 2-foot-six-inch robot rolling around the carpeted floor on twin treads, an M249 machine gun cradled in its mechanical grip.
Read the rest of the Wired piece here (h/t Drudge). It's pretty good, even if they quote that total frickin' bozo John Pike of Global Security.

Seriously, don't get me started on this whiny ninny. Pike is to military knowledge what I am to pro football: a fan, not a player, and certainly someone no one would ever let near the playbook.

Ahem. Moving on.

It's only a matter of time before the Jihadis deal with these.

I've got a friend of mine who works for the Army program that's rushing robots and other innovative technologies out into the field. One of her favorite little toys she brags about working with is the "throwbot," a small robot literally small and light enough to chuck through a window or down a flight of stairs to check for bad guys.

Or, deliver them a nasty explosive surprise.

As technology advances, robots will continue to proliferate on the battlefield (and above it, and below it). As I see it, the major challenges to their successful deployment will remain three-fold:

-- Power. The modern battlefield is turning into a Toy's-R-Us; everything runs on batteries. Night vision gear, GPS receivers, radios, battlefield PDAs, even guns will have batteries. Standardizing them, getting them to last long, and keeping them charged and/or supplied will be a challenge.

-- Weight. The increasing combat load of the American soldier is absolutely unsustainable. You can't keep weighing these guys down with new gadgets, even if they're all dynamite on paper. Whoever carries the robot can't carry something else that might be just as important.

One bright spot here is the prospect of developing a robotic "mule" to help carry the extra gear. But that's still something else that needs to be deployed to the combat zone, powered and supplied while there, and defended during combat. Given the importance of battlefield mobility, a mule might be more trouble than it's worth.

-- Concept of Operations, a.k.a. CONOPS: How do you use these robots? When do you use them? If they're armed, when do you shoot? If they break, how do you fix them? If they run low on power, when and where do you charge them?

There are a lot of questions that need to get answered before you can successfully use robots in combat. Until you develop the right tactics and training for such use, you run the risk of deploying systems that only look cool, but are in practice less than useful, or potentially even dangerous to use.

The good news for the American military and these systems is that, given the war, we have an ideal laboratory to test this equipment out. While it's true you don't want to find out the equipment does not work as advertised when you need it the most, a battlefield testing scenario is far more accurate a determinant of effectiveness than a sterile lab or a contractor parking lot back here in the States.

With reasonable planning and deliberate implementation, soldiers and Marines can take these robots out for a spin and learn a lot more about them in a shorter amount of time than during peacetime, permitting a better judgment of their potential value in a wider deployment.

Brave new world. . .

Is it just me, or do the pictures from the Wired article make these thigs look just like the G.I. Joe Packrats...

Got to be a first, a weird GI Joe toy becomes reality... Now all we need is the S.H.A.R.C.!

As cool as robot pack mules are, I'm beginning to think maybe regular (furry) pack mules might be not be completely ridiculous interim measures until fusion powered robotic battle-mules come into service.

No batteries required.
Proven, off-the-shelf technology.

They eat.
Our troops may get dissed for going into battle with "Francis the Talking Mule" references by other armies.
You can't really beat the whole edible angle. The military can always use more weaponry you can eat.

However. . . really, Francis The Talking Mule? Who even gets that joke anymore? Grandparents?

Hmmm. We haven't had any good talking mule media lately. I think the closest we came was the Bobcat Goldthwait masterpiece Hot to Trot, but that was a horse.

I think we may be overdue.
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