Last November, Public Radio International’s Here and Now broadcast a news story about the U.S. Army’s 1,000-square-mile National Training Center at Fort Irwin, in California’s Mohave Desert — an urban warfare simulator now being used to train soldiers bound for the real Iraq. Now a documentary film about the site, Full Battle Rattle, follows an Army battalion and role-playing insurgents “as they attempt to quell an insurgency and prevent Medina Wasl, a mock Iraqi village, from slipping into civil war.” Fake body parts, robot mannequins, costumed American and Iraqi actors, and Killed In Action cards are all part of the mix.
Check out this incredible video of Boston Dynamics’ robot ‘Big Dog’. The quadruped robot stumbles on ice, maneuvers through snow, climbs over blocks and recovers after being kicked. ‘Big Dog’ is being developed in association with DARPA for use as an Army pack horse that doesn’t tire.
The robot has a certain ‘AT-AT’ quality, doesn’t it? It’s amazing how creepily lifelike its movements are. If you had to trek across the desert or Antarctic, would you like a ‘Big Dog’ around carrying your gear?
Photo Credit: Danger Room Blog
While the U.S. Army has been experimenting with the SWORDS robots in “real world” situations in Iraq, the company that made them has been working on the next generation of killbot, dubbed the MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System). Apparently safety has been the Army’s chief concern when it comes to employing mechanized killing machines. The new MAARS robot apparently has added enhanced safety features, such as not letting the robot shoot the operator:
MAARS features new software controls, which allow the robot’s driver to select fire and no-fire zones. The idea is keep the robots from accidentally shooting a flesh-and-blood American. A mechanical range fan also keeps MAARS’ gun pointed away from friendly positions.
The robot is also equipped with a GPS transmitter, so it can be seen on — and tap into — the American battlefield mapping programs, just like tanks and Humvees. These “Blue Force Trackers” have been credited with dramatically reducing friendly-fire incidents during the Iraq war. MAARS comes with an extra fail-safe, which won’t allow it to fire directly at its own control unit.
Last Summer, the U.S. Army sent three armed Talon IIIB robots, also know as SWORDS (Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detecting System) to Iraq, where they were handed over to the 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division for “more realistic” testing. Apparently the tests went well – the commander of the 3rd Brigade has asked for twenty more. The army already has 80 more on order.
The [robots] will be used as a 125 pound armed sentry, not a combat droid. Or so the official announcement went. So far, the tests appear to have been successful. Swords can also be armed with a 7.62mm machine-gun (and 300 rounds of ammo), a .50 caliber sniper rifle or a 40mm automatic grenade launcher.