Automated military robots used in our contemporary times, actually had their predecessor in the ‘Goliath tracked mine‘, designed by the Germans during the Second World War. Colloquially known as the ‘doodlebugs’ by Allied forces, these contraptions (with over 4,600 specimens being built) could carry 165 lbs to 220 lbs bombs, and traverse through rough territory to reach enemy fortifications, formations and other strategic infrastructure (like bridges). As for maneuvering, the tracked devices were wire-controlled, and they would explode on impact with the targeted object. Suffice it to say, their controls were cumbersome – and we have come a long way in developing technologically progressive robotic conceptions with improved navigational credentials. So, without further ado, let us check out eight such advanced military robot conceptions that you should know about.
Note* – Many of these military robot designs are still in their developmental stage.
1) Armored Combat Engineer Robot (ACER) –
Almost designed in the size of a small bulldozer, the ACER (or Armored Combat Engineer Robot) from Mesa Robotic, is envisaged as an all weather and multi-functional wheeled robot. Boasting its ballistic steel armor plating, the remote-controlled contraption is powered by a 62 hp turbocharged diesel engine. Interestingly, the military robot is conceived as a portable vehicle that can be deployed by military trucks or other transportation crafts. And, once on the field, it can traverse through undulating terrain (with top speed of 7 mph) to reach potentially dangerous points.
To that end, objectives that can be fulfilled by the ACER includes – clearing out buildings, removing explosives and tackling both landmines and laser-mines. Furthermore, the military robot can play its support role in combat engineering, logistics and even fighting fires. These range of functionalities is complemented by the weight carrying capacity of the robot – with its lifting arm capacity of 1,000 lbs (454 kg) and payload capacity of 2,500 lbs (1,139 kg).
2) Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot (BEAR) –
Contrived to be controlled via both a special M-4 rifle grip controller and by hand gestures (through an AnthroTronix iGlove motion glove), the BEAR (or Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot) from Vecna Robotics, is specifically designed to reach and even carry wounded soldiers. The military robot’s evolved maneuverability credentials are demonstrated by its two independent sets of tracked limbs that are capable of dynamic balance. Simply put, these ‘legs’ can be made to stand up, while they can also use supporting features that are depended on their computer-controlled ankles, knees or hips. All of these aspects allow the 6-ft tall military robot to carry up to 500 pounds (227 kg).
Now, in terms of functionalities, the BEAR is envisioned for multiple tasks, ranging from search-and-rescue missions, disposing hazardous substances to mine inspection and even reconnaissance. However, its primary purpose relates to its participation in live battlefields. As Gary Gilbert of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC), made it clear – “If robots could be used in the face of threats such as urban combat, booby-trapped IEDs, and chemical and biological weapons, it could save medics’ and fellow soldiers’ lives”.
3) BigDog –
While quadruped robots have generally belonged to the realm of science fiction, Boston Dynamics (in collaboration with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Harvard University Concord Field Station) surprised many an expert with their so-called BigDog, a rough-terrain military robot designed to “walk, run, climb and carry heavy loads”. To that end, this robot incorporates a hydraulic actuation system driven by its engine, while the four legs replicate the dynamic muscle articulation of an animal (with their ability to absorb shock and regenerate energy from the steps taken).
The core motional attributes of the robot, including the position and force of the joints, along with velocity and acceleration – are controlled via an on-board computer. However, the ‘subtle’ components of the contraption (like a gyroscope, a stereo vision system, and even monitoring of engine speed and temperature) are depended on an array of sensors that are built onto the actuators. When translated to specifications, the robotic dog has the ability to run at 4 mph, ascend slopes that have up to 35 degrees gradient, carry 340 lbs (154 kg) of load, and traverse rough terrains – ranging from muddy grounds to rubble.
4) CARACaS Autonomous ‘Swarm’ Boats –
Better known as USVs (Unmanned Surface Vessels), the above-pictured advanced unmanned crafts were recently tested on Virginia’s James River. Their formations pertain to progressive tactics, with the military robotic vehicles making their movements and progress from all sides in a coordinated manner. In fact, the testing phase started out with these USVs protecting a main ship. However, the defensive position rapidly gave way to an aggressive stance when the military robot boats broke off from their escorting formation to swarm a possible intruder.
This sudden and impressive switch in tactical planning was entirely achieved by the robots’ own computational power. According to the US Navy, this was the result of the Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing (CARACaS) system that is used for the navigational capacity of the military robot boats. And beyond just driving, the collective system was crucial for coordinating the different vehicles – that not only improved co-operation among themselves, but also endowed them with autonomous ‘situational awareness’.