Despite controversy about whether robots should be used to fight in wars, not just help with supply missions, development of robotic soldiers is on. According to the Army, we could see robots capable of firing automatic weapons on the battlefield within the next five years.
A number of robotics companies have been developing such technology, and recently iRobot, Northrop Grumman, QinetiQ, and HDT Robotics all took their inventions, and the M240 machine guns they fire, to the Robotics Rodeo in order to show off their capabilities to Army representatives.
Seeing robots hit targets from up to 500 feet away impressed the military brass. “The technology is getting to be where it needs to be,” says Lieutenant Colonel Willie Smith. This is especially true given a 2008 report that noted some of the robots moved without being commanded. Now, however, the Army is optimistic about the possibility of implementing these robots within the next five years. The plan isn’t to entirely replace humans with robots, but to have them work together. This is still the idea, despite recent reports that when humans work with robots, they can become emotionally attached to the extent that it affects their decision-making.
One of the robots exhibited at the rodeo was Northrop Grumman’s CaMEL (Carry-all Mechanized Equipment Landrover). CaMEL is a pretty apt name for it, given how much it can carry and how long it can run. CaMEL is capable of hauling and using automatic weapons, anti-tank missiles, and grenade launchers. It’s fair to say CaMEL could probably kick ATLAS’s ass, although DARPA’s Legged Squad Support System pack mule robot might be able to give it a run for its money.
CaMEL is almost as efficient with fuel as real camels are with water—thanks to its hybrid engine, 3.5 gallons can power the robot for more than 20 hours while hauling around 1,000 pounds of equipment. CaMEL can also charge batteries or be used to run other systems, and it maneuvers quietly on the battlefield. So we’ve got a robot that’s armed to the teeth, and it’s stealthy. Yay? Northrop Grumman says their droid is designed to both support and protect troops, operating as an “armed wingman.” It’s designed to blow the living shit out of things as well.
These robots all currently operate via remote control, but it’s fair to ask when they’ll start making their own decisions about where, when, and at whom to fire. Despite debates and warnings about allowing autonomous robots to make lethal decisions, it seems that the industry is heading in that direction, especially with continued test runs and eventual real-life implementation of the CaMEL and other such robots. Maybe I’ve seen Terminator too many times, or maybe some of these robotics companies haven’t seen it enough, but I’ve got two fingers in the air over here. I’m all for peace, man (and robot).