Ground mobile robots on today's and tomorrow's battlefield. Overview of US engineering
Everyone is talking about fighting robots. From Hollywood blockbusters to the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, robots are a hot topic and an increasingly expensive part of the military budgets of militaries around the world. But what can you really expect from them? But more importantly, what would we like them to do?
On the pages of science fiction books, robots often appear as forerunners of the future. In 1962, Ray Bradbury wrote a story titled “Electric Body Sing!”. In his story, a widow with three children chooses a nanny for her children. The “grandmother” robot is soon gaining the favor of two younger children, but it only causes offense to the younger girl named Agatha. “Grandma” tries to establish herself before Agatha, she demonstrates an act of selflessness, risking her life for Agatha, thereby showing that she can be more humane than most people. "Grandma" Ray Bradbury shows robots as the heirs of the best sides of humanity. Today, robots are vital, they help soldiers survive on the battlefields, changing the way war is conducted. Today, paraphrasing Bradbury, one can say: “I am fighting for an electrical body.”
Dawn of ground mobile robots (NMR)
There are two basic principles of the modern era, which quickly change the way wars lead future wars: the first is the ability of people to transform science into technology; the second is the rate of acceleration with which this transformation occurs. The first principle is a question of thinking abilities, while the second is a function of the rapid progress of computer power. The combination of intellectual power and growing computational capabilities has created a "brave new world" of military robots for land warfare. The use of military robots in battle is a "qualitatively new" and often contradictory transformation of war; these robots are not just weaponthey are created to replace human beings.
Although the 2009 robots of the year are making childish steps in comparison with science fiction stories, they have already proven their usefulness in battle. The initial NMR technologies were deployed in the first battles in Iraq and Afghanistan and quickly spread over the next few years; ground robots have been widely used in explosive ordnance disposal (AFP) operations and countless improvised explosive devices. To date, over 7000 ground robots deployed by the US Armed Forces in the areas of their deployment, they have become an integral part of military operations.
At one time, in one of his interviews, retired vice-admiral, president of the government and industrial robots division of iRobot, Joseph Dyer, stressed the importance of replacing the NMR soldiers, at least in some combat situations. “Before the NMR, the soldiers went to the caves to check for the presence of enemy soldiers and military equipment. The cable was attached to them, in case something goes wrong ... so that the co-workers could pull them out. With the NMR, the soldiers can now put the robots first, staying at a safe distance. This is very important due to the fact that half of all losses occur during initial contact with the enemy. Here, the robot is one of those who comes first. ” Admiral Dyer recalls that at the end of 2005, the airborne assault expeditionary forces tested more 40 technologies at Fort Benning. “The Army Minister asked the Expeditionary Force Commander: If you could choose two technologies to apply right now, which one would you choose? The commander replied, small NMR (SUGV) and RAVEN. When he asked why, he answered: among other things, I want to control the situation. I want to have the eye of God (RAVEN UAV) and close personal review (SUGV) on the battlefield. ”
The CHAOS robot, manufactured by ASI (Autonomous Solutions Inc.) for the TARDEC armored research center, is shown in the photo during the winter tests
The MATTRACKS T4-3500 robot uses tracked technology that provides mobility and good grip in mud, sand, snow, swamp and tundra. TARDEC worked with Mattracks on the tracked NMR project for chassis and electric drive design.
Northrop Grumman Remotec has a wide range of robots for a variety of applications: military, explosive ordnance disposal, hazardous substances, and law enforcement. Named ANDROS, it includes the HD-1, F6A, Mk V-A1, Mini-ANDROS and WOLVERINE models. In the photo of explosives at work with the model F6A
The TALON robot, controlled by an ordinary 17 engineer regiment of the Iraqi army, raises an empty bottle with its capture during a joint exercise in southern Baghdad. TALON was developed by Foster-Miller (part of QinetiQ North America) and has been widely and successfully used in explosive ordnance disposal operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
MARCbot IV advances its camera to search for suspicious IEDs
The continuous development of NMR over the past decade, combined with new technologies, has created many robots that saved many lives and helped achieve operational success in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result of this timely success on the battlefield, there is an increased interest in ground mobile systems across the entire spectrum of ground combat missions. Currently, the United States is the first developer of military robots, but this leadership is limited, and many other advanced aircraft complement their arsenals with ground-based robots or plan to do so. Long-term research in the United States will focus on developing and deploying an ever-increasing number of NMRs. Congressional research (“Development and use of robotized and ground mobile robots”, 2006) defines the NMR as a special area of interest and emphasizes that the military significance of technologies in the field of NMR is growing rapidly.
NMRs perform two important functions: they broaden the perception of a fighter and influence the course of action on the battlefield. The first function of the NMR is to provide intelligence, observation and guidance. They influence the course of action in such tasks as the fight against improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the transportation of weapons, equipment and supplies and the removal of the wounded.
NMRs can be either remotely controlled (that is, directed by a remote operator or a decision maker) or autonomous to a lesser or greater degree (that is, able to work independently as part of their task and make independent software-based decisions). Remote-controlled robots are usually controlled through complex wireless communication channels and, as a rule, require a specially trained operator or group of operators to operate in a complex battlefield space. Using radio-controlled NMR, soldiers can peek around corners in city battles and reduce their risks from observation and enemy fire. Basically, the control distance of modern NMR is 2000 – 6000 m.
Ground robots are not cheap and their modern environment often requires the participation of more, not less, personnel. Specially trained teams usually need to be able to work with the HMD of the modern generation. Since personnel expenses make up the majority of the costs of any aircraft, the sooner the NMR can work independently or with little or no control, the lower the costs. The NMR should eventually replace the soldiers, and not increase the need for additional soldiers to work with them. The need for operators and maintenance will only increase with the development of NMR.
The management of modern NMR requires a personal computer or at least a laptop (in the photo above is a control station for Remotec ANDROS), but for promising small NMRs it will be significantly reduced to a wearable set consisting of a small console and a helmet display
IRobot's PackBot is ready for countering improvised explosive devices in Iraq. The company has supplied more than 2525 NMD Series PackBot to the US Armed Forces in six batches, plus several hundred sets of disposal of explosive items
In October, 2008, iRobot received a research contract worth 3,75 million dollars from TARDEC for the delivery of two WARRIOR 700 platforms. The WARRIOR 700 (shown in the photo) passes mobility tests on various reliefs, it is distinguished by an advanced digital architecture, can carry a payload exceeding 150 pounds (68 kg) and can be configured to perform various dangerous tasks, such as bomb disposal, AFP (IED / explosive machines / unexploded ordnance), clearing routes, surveillance and reconnaissance. It can also be used to remove the wounded from the battlefield or in an armed version can destroy targets with a machine gun M240B. WARRIOR 700 is controlled remotely using an Ethernet radio station at distances of approximately 800 m, but it cannot make independent decisions.
The SWORD (Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Direct-action System) option is a special weapon system, surveillance, reconnaissance for direct action of the TALON series can have either M240 or M249 machine guns, or Barrett rifle of 12,7 mm caliber to perform armed reconnaissance tasks. Various prototypes of the SWORDS variant were delivered to the ARDEC weapons research center for evaluation, and some of them were later deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additional systems are currently being evaluated by combat units in the US and other countries.
The UGCV PerceptOR Integration (UPI) program is run by the national robotic center to improve the speed, reliability, and autonomous navigation of the ground mobile robot. In the photo HMR CRUSHER, overcoming difficult terrain during tests in Fort Bliss
NMR and the legacy of the American Army FCS program
In the future, there will naturally be more combat robots with better performance. The basis of the most pretentious once program of the American army FCS (Future Combat System - the combat systems of the future), for example, were robots as a very important factor in increasing the combat capabilities of the army. And although the program “ordered to live long” in 2009, the robots developed within it, apparently, survived it and continued their technological development. The advantages of the NMR on the battlefield are so huge that the development of remote-controlled and autonomous NMR continues, despite reductions in the defense budget. Former DARPA director Steve Lukasik said: “What is currently called promising systems is basically a robotic addition to ground forces in combat.”
The HMP family for the FCS “dead in the Bose” program includes the small HMP SUGV (Small UGV) and the MULE series. Together, the NMR are the basis for the success of future combat brigades and are important combat components on the same level as other manned weapons and components of the armed forces.
The XM1216 SUGV (Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle) Small Mobile Robot is a lightweight, wearable system capable of working in urban areas, tunnels, sewers and caves or other areas that are either not accessible or too dangerous for soldiers. SUGV performs surveillance and reconnaissance, preventing soldiers from entering the danger zones. It weighs less than 30 pounds (13,6 kg) and carries up to 6 pounds (2,7 kg) payload. This load may include a manipulator arm, a fiber-optic cable, an electro-optical / infrared sensor, a laser range finder, a laser designator, a machine for setting urban unattended ground-based sensors, and a chemical / radiological / nuclear detector. The system is transported and maintained by one soldier and has a variety of operator control units, including a portable controller, a main wearable controller, and an advanced wearable controller. SUGV is remotely controlled and not autonomous.
Under the MULE (Multifunction Utility / Logistics Equipment) program, a 2,5-ton common chassis with three options to support a dismounted soldier was created: transport (MULE-T), armed mobile robot - assault (light) (ARV-A (L) ) and mine clearance option (MULE-CM). All of them have the same basic chassis 6х6 with independent articulated suspension, the engines in the hubs rotate each wheel, which provides excellent maneuverability on difficult terrain and far exceeds the permeability of machines with traditional suspension systems. MULE overcomes a height not less than 1 meter, and can cross ditches 1 meter wide, cross side slopes more than 40%, force water obstacles deeper than 0,5 meter and overcome obstacles 0,5 meter in height, simultaneously compensating for different mass of the payload and center of gravity. All MULEs are equipped with an autonomous navigation system that includes navigation sensors (GPS + inertial navigation system INS), perception sensors, autonomous navigation algorithms and software for overcoming and avoiding obstacles. NMR can be controlled either remotely or in semi-automatic mode, following the lead, or in semi-automatic mode on the route. MULE has future potential due to its spiral development and has an open architecture to take full advantage of the rapid development of technology.
XM1217 MULE-T was created to support soldiers, it provides the volume and capacity to transport weapons and supplies to support two dismounted infantry units. He will carry 1900 – 2400 pounds (860 – 1080 kg) equipment and backpacks for dismounted infantry units and follow the cross-country unit. A variety of mounting points and removable / foldable side rails allow you to mount almost any load, including a stretcher for the wounded.
XM1218 MULE-CM will provide the ability to identify, mark and neutralize anti-tank mines using the GSTAMIDS built-in remote mine detection system (Ground Standoff Mine Detection System). The XM1219 ARV-A (L) will be equipped with weapons (rapid-fire suppression weapons and anti-tank weapons) designed to create immediate, intense firepower for the dismounted soldier; the robot is also designed for reconnaissance, observation and target detection (RSTA), support for dismounted infantry to locate and destroy enemy platforms and positions.
NMR and the future
It seems clear that advanced armies will deploy human and robotic forces when NMR will be used for reconnaissance and surveillance, logistics and support, communications and combat. Whenever the issue of robots is discussed, the debate on autonomous control is usually “not lagging behind.” The advantages of autonomous robots over remote-controlled robots are obvious to anyone who trained for war. Remote solutions are slower than standalone solutions. An autonomous robot must be able to respond faster and distinguish its own from the enemy faster than a remotely controlled model. In addition, remote robots require communication channels that can be interrupted or silenced, while autonomous robots could simply turn on and off. Autonomous robots, therefore, are the next inevitable step in the evolution of military robots.
BEAR (Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot - evacuation from the battlefield, robot assistant) from Vecna Robotics will someday be able to provide opportunities for robotic evacuation of the wounded. BEAR is able to carefully lift a person or other payload and transport it to a distance and lower it to the ground where indicated by the operator. Whether in combat, in the heart of a reactor, near toxic chemical spills or inside constructively dangerous structures after earthquakes, BEAR will be able to detect and save those who are in need without undue human loss. The BEAR project from Vecna Robotics won a key seed funding from the Research Center for Telemedicine and Modern Technologies TATRC (USAMRMC Medical Research and Materials Command Structure of the US Army). Currently, it has full wireless control, performed by one operator, but eventually BEAR will become more and more autonomous, which will make it easily manageable.
MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System - modular advanced armed robotic system) from Foster-Miller as a successor to the SWORD model introduces a new "transformer" modular design. It has a more powerful machine gun, the M240B, and significant improvements in command and control, situational awareness, mobility, lethality, and security compared to its predecessor. MAARS has a new manipulator arm with a nominal load capacity of 100 pounds, which can be installed instead of the turret machine gun M240B, literally transforming it from an armed platform to protect its forces into a platform for identifying and neutralizing explosive items. The MAARS chassis is a supporting structure with easy access to batteries and electronics. Other features include a larger load compartment, more torque, faster speed and improved braking. The new digital control unit significantly improves control and management functions and situational awareness, which allows the operator to have a greater level of security. The mass of the entire system is about 350 pounds (158 kg). MAARS and SWORDS are ROVs (remotely operated vehicles), and as such they are not autonomous.
ARMADILLO from MacroUSA is an extremely compact, portable and “drop-in” platform ideal for urban environments. The concept of this “abandonment” is to deliver the NMR to dangerous places by throwing ARMADILLO into the potentially dangerous observation zones. The small size of the ARMADILLO makes it the ideal assistant to the soldiers involved in urban combat. The robot can work in any position if necessary, its dual antenna is mounted on a hinge support, which rotates to hold it in a given direction; Also, the antenna can be folded into a horizontal position for transportation and handling. Tracksorb modular wheels have been specifically designed to absorb vertical axis forces and adhere to uneven surfaces and overcome obstacles. ARMADILLO can also be used as an automatic video / acoustic monitoring device with a digital camera installed.
SUGV DRAGON RUNNER was originally developed for the US Marine Corps by Automatika, which became a subsidiary of Foster-Miller in 2007 year. Today's base model weighs 14 pounds (6,3 kg) and measures just 12,2x16,6x6 inches. The robot allows users to "watch from the corner" in urban environments. It may also be useful in such roles as: security at roadblocks; vehicle bottom inspection; intelligence inside buildings, sewers, gutters, caves and courtyards; perimeter security using onboard motion sensors and sound traps; inspection of buses, trains and airplanes; reconnaissance and negotiations when taking hostages; clearing routes from IEDs and disposing of explosive items. Joint Ground Robotics Enterprise has developed the DRAGON RUNNER four and six-wheel models, along with configurable track and long track versions. Some promising DRAGON RUNNER robots will have manipulators, others will support additional payload enhancement systems for remotely delivering additional sensory and neutralization equipment, including explosives detection equipment, VCA neutralization kits, water cannons, searchlights, cameras and repeaters
"Scooby-Doo" in the photo in the lobby of iRobot. This NMR checked and destroyed the 17 IED, one vehicle with explosives and one unexploded bomb in Iraq before it was destroyed by the destruction of the IED. Soldiers view these robots as members of their team. In fact, when this robot was destroyed, an agitated soldier went to a repair shop with him asking him to fix the robot. He said the robot saved several lives that day. The NMR was no longer repairable, but it shows the soldiers' attachment to some of their robots and their appreciation for the fact that robots save their lives.
In an interview with Big Think magazine, Daniel Dennett, a professor of philosophy at Tufts University (Massachusetts), discussed the issue of robotic warfare and the topic of controlling remote-controlled and autonomous robots. He said that every day machine control replaces more and more human control in all aspects and that the discussion of what is better, human control or artificial intelligence solutions, is the most difficult issue we face today. The issue of decision making also opens one of the hottest debates affecting the use of robots in a war.
Some argue that if technology trends continue, it will not last long until most land robots become autonomous. Arguments for effective autonomous NMR are based on the assurance that they will not only reduce friendly losses in future wars, but also reduce the need for NMR operators and, consequently, reduce overall defense spending. Robots may not be cheap, but they cost less even more expensive soldiers. The rivalry for the creation and deployment of the most effective autonomous robots for complex combat missions on land, at sea and in the air will accelerate in the coming years. For reasons of efficiency and cost, and accordingly due to the fact that mental abilities are combined with computational capabilities, autonomous robots will be developed and deployed in large quantities in the next decades.
Professor Noel Sharkey, an expert on robots and artificial intelligence from a British university in Sheffield, once said that: “Modern robots are stupid machines with very limited perceptual capabilities. This means that it is impossible to guarantee a clear recognition of fighters and innocents or the proportional use of force which is necessary for the current laws of war. ” He further added that "we are rapidly moving towards robots who can decide on the use of lethal force, when to apply it and to whom to apply .... I think we can talk about the period in 10 years."
The combat version of the ARV-A (L) of the MULE family will have built-in armaments (rapid-fire suppression armaments and anti-tank weapons). It is designed to provide immediate discovery of fire in order to support a dismounted soldier, as well as reconnaissance, observation and detection and destruction of enemy platforms and positions.
BIGDOG, described by its developers from Boston Dynamics as the “most advanced four-legged robot on Earth,” is a cross-country robot that walks, runs, scrambles and carries heavy loads, in fact it is a robotic cargo mule designed to carry heavy loads for infantrymen on areas where it is difficult to drive ordinary cars. BIGDOG has an engine that drives a hydraulic control system, it moves on four legs, which are articulated like an animal with elastic elements to absorb shocks and recirculate energy from one step to another. The BIGDOG robot, with the size of a small mule, weighs 355 pounds (160 kg) with a payload of 80 pounds (36 kg). The on-board computer BIGDOG controls the movement (locomotion), servomotors of the legs and various sensors. The control system of the robot BIGDOG keeps it in balance, directs and regulates its “energy” when the external conditions change. Movement sensors include hinge position, hinge forces, gyroscope, LIDAR (infrared laser locator) and stereoscopic system. Other sensors are focused on the internal state of BIGDOG, they monitor hydraulic pressure, oil temperature, engine operation, battery charge, and so on. In special tests, BIGDOG trotted 6,5 km / h, climbed the slope to 35 °, stepped over stones, walked along muddy paths, walked through snow and water, and showed its ability to follow the human leader. BIGDOG set a world record for walking vehicles after passing 12,8 miles without stopping and recharging. DARPA (US Department of Defense Advanced Research and Development Office), which sponsors the BIGDOG project, launched the next LS2008 Departmental Legacy Squad Support System in November 3. It is seen as a system similar to BIGDOG, but weighing 1250 pounds, 400 pounds carrying capacity and a power reserve per 24 hours 20 miles
Demonstration of a robotic walking system for carrying LS3 cargoes to the commander of the Marine Corps and to the director of DARPA 10 September 2012. Video with my subtitles
Creating autonomous combat robots, separating a person from a trigger and replacing a person’s decision-making with a rule-based system is a subject of much controversy, but, like in other areas of technical development, the genie cannot be put back into the bottle and the distribution of autonomous NMR becomes inevitable. If the increasing proliferation of autonomous robots on the battlefield is inevitable, then a dispute about the rules of hitting targets, which determine the moment the trigger is pulled, is more important than ever. Most likely the result of this dispute may be the development of a “warrior’s ethical code” for autonomous NMR.
P. Singer, a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution and author of the book “Tied to War,” said in an interview for Big Think magazine that you can put ethical codes into autonomous machines, which will reduce the likelihood of war crimes. Machines, by their nature, cannot be moral. Robots have no moral boundaries to direct their actions, they do not know how to sympathize, they have no sense of guilt. Singer said that for an autonomous robot, "80-year-old grandmother in a wheelchair is the same as the T-80 tank except for a pair of ones and zeros that are embedded in the program code ... and this should worry us in a certain way."
In order to meet full potential and be more efficient and accessible, NMRs should become more autonomous, but in the near future, however, robots will remain largely controlled by human operators. Autonomous robots like GUARDIUM are likely to be given certain discrete tasks, such as ensuring security in specially defined and programmable areas, such as guarding the international airport in Tel Aviv). Most of the robots will remain under human control for many years (do not be afraid of Skynet from Terminator films), since artificial intelligence for autonomous robots is still in the decades from us.
IRobot executive director Colin Angle once said in an interview with CNET News: “You are in the control chain and even if you can tell a GPS-equipped robot to follow a certain path until it reaches a specific position, it will still be necessary for a person with the purpose of deciding what to do when the robot comes there. In the future, there will be more and more features built into the robot, so that the soldier will not have to constantly look at the video screen, while someone sneaks around and can create trouble, and therefore we will allow robots to become more efficient. But, nevertheless, there is a need for human participation because artificial intelligence just doesn’t really fit in this case. ”
Until the day when autonomous robots appear in large numbers on the battlefield, the NMR will be improved by step-by-step automation, which will facilitate their operation, reduce the number of soldiers required for control, but the right to issue orders will remain with the soldier. Soldiers will use these incredible machines to save lives, gather information and hurt their opponents. Like the robot in the Bradbury story. robots are “neither good nor bad”, but they can be sacrificed for the sake of man and this makes them priceless. The reality is that robots save lives on the battlefield every day, but armies do not get enough of them.
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