Behold the Robot Army: Paging Sarah Connor
As armor, weapons, equipment and drones before more advanced, we’re facing down a battlefield manned by armies of robots, not men.
Three thousand years ago, an army general might have wished for better shields, longer weapons or a faster way to communicate down the line. In the last century the dangerous jobs held by servicemen have been steadily given to technology. The decision maker at the end of a spear may have been only a few feet from the enemy with orders given a quarter mile away, but now the operator and commander can be in a different country.
Trump told San Diego earlier this year that along with making sure the US Military gets higher pay, he’d think about opening an outer space division along with the Air Force, ground troops and navy.
All of this is thanks to technology, and it’ll be here within years.
Pentagon: One Billion for Combat Robots
In the next few years, the Pentagon has earmarked $1 billion that will go towards supplying robots to work with combat troops. And this isn’t simply research money, as robots who can do the real dirty work have already been designed, created, tested and put to field.
The robots perform tasks from carrying gear to reconnaissance, and also do the tasks you often hear associated with police robots, including disposing of chemicals and diffusing bombs.
According to the project manager for force protection with the US Army, Bryan McVeigh:
“Within five years, I have no doubt there will be robots in every Army formation. We’re going from talking about robots to actually building and fielding programs. This is an exciting time to be working on robots with the Army.”
So far, says McVeigh, his project has fielded 800 robots.
Featherweight and Heavyweight Robot Champions
Last month, the Army awarded a contract worth $429.1 million to two companies in Massachusetts for small robots under 25 pounds. One of the two companies, Endeavor Robotics, was also awarded two contracts from the Marine Corps to provide small to mid-sized robots.
In all, the Army has light, medium and heavy designations for their robo-troops.
Endeavor Robotics was contracted last fall for 1,200 medium robots, weighing less than 165 pounds. The robots are able to be carried by a single man and should be in service by the summer of 2019 to work on threats including explosives. The company’s CEO Sean Bielat said that “ground robots can do a lot more” and there are more capabilities that are yet to be developed and exploited for the benefit of America. The robots, he said, should be taking on the “dull, the dirty and the dangerous” tasks currently handed to infantry.
As for the heavy robots, those plans have been made public yet.
Robots in Iraq
According to the Defense Department, during combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the military inventoried around 7,000 robots, most of them designed to power down IEDs.
A trade journal poked at the assortment of robots, calling the inventory a “petting zoo of various ground robots” because each robot had only one purpose.
I might be tempting a robot uprising, but I’ll tell you that only 2,500 of those 7,000 in the petting zoo will survive the army’s cull as they obtain better options.
To settle one question: No, none of the robots in the US Army are or will be used for violence… at least in the time being. The Endeavor CEO said:
“Just strapping a conventional weapon onto a robot doesn’t necessarily give you that much… there is occasional interest in weaponizing robots, but it’s not particularly [a] strong interest…. [and] definitely not autonomous use of weapons.”
So no knife-wielding Roombas yet.
South Korea Working On Killbots
A few months ago, a group of international robotics experts signed on to a boycott of an American-run university in South Korea, saying that they’ve partnered with a weapons manufacturer in order to create robots that can make their own decisions on whether to kill.
“…the partnership will see the laboratory working on AI-based commanded and decision systems as well as navigational algorithms and AI-based aircraft. As well, there will be a focus on object tracking and object recognition… which is basically everything you need for a murder robot.”
But now that North Korea seems to be cooling off, there might not be such a pressing need for South Koreans to develop killbots.