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The new breed of soldier: Robots with guns
19 abr 2006
Spurred by the risks from roadside bombs and terrorist ambushes, the
military is aggressively seeking to replace troops with battlefield
robots, including new versions armed with machine guns.
"There was a time just a few years ago when we almost had to beg people to
try an unmanned ground vehicle," says Marine Col. Terry Griffin, manager
of the Robotic Systems Joint Project Office in Huntsville, Ala. "We don't
have to beg anymore."

UAVs sniff out IEDS:Eyes in the sky needed to spot lethal explosives on
the ground

Although the Pentagon initially focused on aircraft, such as the Predator
drone, now new ground- and sea-based robots are being developed and
tested, military records show. For example:

• The Mobile Detection Assessment Response System, an unmanned vehicle
intended to patrol around domestic bases. The Army plans to start using it
next year.

• Self-driving convoy trucks. Some variants follow preplanned routes or
the vehicle in front. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has
held a competition among advanced, satellite-guided versions that plan
their own routes and maneuver around roadblocks. The Army is testing
driverless versions of its Stryker armored personnel carrier.

• Robots that can enter a building, look for an enemy and send back a map
of the interior are being tested for the Marine Corps.

Already in Iraq and Afghanistan are hundreds of small robots to help bomb
squads examine or disarm explosives from a safe distance. That's because
of the continuing toll caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs),
which have been become the largest killer of U.S. troops.

Ninety-five U.S. troops in Iraq have been killed by IEDs in 2006 through
April 9, according to military records and the USA TODAY Iraq casualty
database. That's 57% of the 167 U.S. fatalities in Iraq during that

Records kept by U.S. Central Command, which directs troops in Iraq and
Afghanistan, show the number of IED attacks increased 89% in 2005 to
10,593, compared with 5,607 in 2004.

To better detect and stop IEDs, new sensors are being attached to those
robots, says Dave Greene of the Army's Test and Evaluation Command, which
evaluates the performance of robots and other technologies.

The military also is responding to some creative tinkering by the troops,
who have modified their robots to carry grenades and other weapons into
buildings or other potentially unsafe targets.

"Soldiers and Marines are very innovative and ... have figured out how to
do that," Griffin says.

As a result, the Pentagon is testing a new version of the Talon robot that
carries a remote-control M-240 machine gun.

Meanwhile, much larger and more ambitious robot weapons are in testing,
including a tank-like, 1,600-pound vehicle called the Gladiator, which can
fire a variety of guns, tear gas or almost anything else that fits. It
also has loudspeakers to "shout" instructions, such as those to calm a

Those armed robots are like the Predator, which fires only with a human
command. The next step - robots that decide themselves when to fire - is
much harder.

Robots will become more independent, but having them fight without human
control is "not a technology issue, so much as it's a safety issue," says
Scott Myers, president of General Dynamics Robotic Systems.

A robot can find a human with its sensors and kill the person, but "we
don't want to shoot our own people or children," Myers says. It's hard
enough for a human to distinguish between friend and foe, and for
machines, "we're a long way from being there."

The goal now is helping troops in the field as quickly as possible, says
Col. Gregory Tubbs, head of the Army's Rapid Equipping Force. In the long
term, Tubbs says, the Gladiator and other robots will be transitional, as
the military shifts to "game changing" robotic technologies that will
revolutionize warfare.
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