What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Rob Waugh
Daily Mail

Armies of robots
including dog-like creatures walking on four legs and huge lumbering
trucks are the stuff of science fiction – specifically, bleak
films such as The

But the U.S.
military not only wants more robots – it wants more ‘autonomous’
robots, robots free to make their own decisions on the battlefield.

A new robot
is described as ‘like a dog’ that follows troops on the battlefield – and future models will use technologies such as laser imaging
to build their own picture of the world.

Ten years of
war in Afghanistan and Iraq have put a spotlight on the growing
use of unmanned systems in the skies over the battlefield, from
the high-flying Global Hawk to the lethal Predator aircraft and
the hand-launched Raven.

But on the
ground, thousands of small, remotely operated robots also have proven
their value in dealing with roadside bombs, a lethal threat to U.S.
troops in both wars.

Of more than
6,000 robots deployed, about 750 have been destroyed in action

This has saved
at least that many human lives, the Pentagon’s Robotics Systems
Joint Program Office estimates.

Only now is
robotics research nearing the stage that the military may soon be
able to deploy large ground vehicles capable of performing tasks
on their own with little human involvement.


The results,
among other things, could be more saved lives, less wear and tear
on the troops, and reduced fuel consumption.

Full autonomy,
engineers say, is still years away.

‘The ground
domain is much, much tougher than the air domain because it’s so
dynamic,Â’ said Myron Mills, who has worked on both aerial and
ground robotic systems and now manages an autonomous vehicle program
for Maryland-headquartered Lockheed Martin Corp.

Mills said
autonomous ground systems face a series of challenges such as dust,
fog and debris – as well as avoiding civilians and troops.

A path may
be passable one moment and littered with obstacles a half hour later
due to battle damage.

just a very, very tough and chaotic environment,Â’ Mills said.
‘The hardest thing to deal with has been figuring out how to
make the system usable for the soldiers and be able to cope with
the chaotic environment.Â’

Enough progress
has been made that Lockheed’s Squad Mission Support System, a 5,000-pound
(2,268 kg) vehicle designed to carry backpacks and other gear for
overloaded foot soldiers, is now being tested in Afghanistan.

Oshkosh’s unmanned vehicle system, which would allow one person
to control several heavy cargo trucks, has been assessed by U.S.
Marine Corps drivers in the United States and is in the final stages
of concept development.

A four-legged
walking robot designed to carry loads for combat foot patrols – the Legged Squad Support System, or LS3 – is due to undergo testing
and assessment with troops toward the end of the year, developers
at Massachusetts-based Boston Dynamics said.

The potential
payoffs could be huge.

Robotic systems
could ‘radically alter the balance’ among the variables
that are driving the high cost of combat vehicles, according to
a report for the Pentagon last year by the nonprofit Rand Corporation.

Taking drivers
out of the trucks would reduce the need for thick armor plating
that increases weight, boosts the need for ever more powerful engines
and ratchets up fuel consumption in places like Afghanistan, where
the cost of delivering petroleum can run as high as $400 per gallon,
the Rand report said.

the rest of the article

15, 2012

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