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Robots in the Military

Pretty much by definition, the military is a dangerous place for humans. This makes it a logical application for robotics, but I definitely have mixed feelings about that. I can live with robots assisting soldiers, but automated killing is taking it too far. At left we see the Smart Crane Ammunition Transfer System being developed  by the Robotics Research Corporation. The goal is for one soldier to be able to unload the entire truck without ever leaving the cab. The system includes cameras, video screens, force sensors and special grippers.

The photo at right shows a robotic mine-sweeper. It is basically a tractor with a bunch of swinging chains mounted on the front. These chains pound the ground with significant forces to explode any buried mines. Using GPS and relatively simple control algorithms, robots such as these can be programmed to methodically cover large areas of ground in a perfect grid. Vehicles like this can also be equipped with water cutting tools to cut into and through explosive ordnance, water cannons to disperse unruly mobs and charge setters to explode suspicious packages. For these operations the unmanned vehicle would be teleoperated. 

The Predator shown at left has probably become our military's most famous unmanned vehicle. It is essentially a super high-tech r/c plane though it does have some autonomous flying capabilities. Originally designed for reconnaissance, it now can be outfitted with a variety of different weaponry, most recently the laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armor missiles. It is roughly 29 feet long with a 49 foot wingspan. Since 1995, the Predator has seen action over Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. 

The photo at right shows an unmanned underwater vehicle that was developed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) under ONR support. It performs reconnaissance (hydrographic and side-scan sonar surveys) in littoral waters, from the seaward edge of the surf zone into waters as deep as 100 meters. The vehicle is small, capable of deployment by two people, and can be launched and recovered from a small vessel without a crane or other special handling equipment. It can operate over 20 hours on battery power before recharging and is capable of speeds over 2.5 meters per second. It operates completely autonomously.

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