Armed bots in Iraq and Afghanistan haven't shot, but the shape-shifting MAARS might change that in January.
By Seth Porges
Published in the January 2008 issue.
When robot-maker Foster-Miller strapped machine guns onto a trio of bomb-disposal bots and sent them to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007, the company created the first armed robots to be deployed in a war zone. Still, no robot has ever actually fired a shot in combat. “Weaponized robots represent a new technology that is only in the developmental stages,” says Duane Gotvald, a deputy at the Pentagon’s Robotic Systems Joint Project Office.
That could change now that Foster-Miller is set to ship the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS), an armed robot with Transformer-like abilities. “It can be changed from one mission setup to another in short order,” says Charles Dean, the company’s senior program manager for advanced robots. Operators can alter the machine’s treads, drive system, weaponry and even its dimensions.
One thing that won’t change is who decides to pull the trigger. MAARS doesn’t have a mind of its own: A soldier commands the bot through a video-and-map-enabled remote control.
• Armed—Or Arm: An M240B machine gun can be swapped like a drill bit for a bomb-disposing manipulator arm.
• All-terrain: Tanklike treads that can climb curbs—or stairs—can be switched with wheels, allowing the bot to hit more than 7 mph.
• Long leash: A controller guides MAARS from more than 1 kilometer away; if reception is weak, the robot shuts down to avoid mishaps.
15. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
Well this is all well and good, however i highly doubt we're the only ones making headway in this area. I'm quite confident other countries have vested their own interest in sort of thing. yes its true it isn't a true robot being fully automated and let loose on the battlefield. and at this point thats probably a good thing. Even countries that dont have the resources to build these could easily come up with some low tech, yet effective ways of countering this. That alone pretty much ensures that actual human infantry will have to be on the battlefield regardless.
14. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
Sooo, how much American assets are we giving away to China and Japan to pay for these???
13. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
Website: RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
12. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
Ok bring on the droidekas! Luke Skywalker would be proud...
11. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
i just wonder why they don't play any computer games instead of building expensive machines and then doing the same...
10. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
Now that's amazing!!!
9. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
MAARS, not just a misspelled planet
8. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
Its funny to see this come so late! The US military is supposed to be using this 10 years back. Guess they want to keep soldiers in their pay checks
7. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
I agree with #6. I get frustrated with the fact that so many people out there do not know what a robot is. The show battlebots? Come on. They, along with this, are no more robots than remote controlled cars are. If a human decides (out side the programming) what/how choices are made and how stimuli are reacted to then this does not a robot make.
6. RE: This is not a robot or battle droid.
This is not a real robot. It is not programmed to respond in certain ways; it has no mind of its own. It is a remote control device like a UCAV. A person directs it and decides when and at who to fire.
5. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
I like your efforts, but not impressed with the device. One rocket propelled device on this vehicle will destroy it in seconds. The tracks are too cheap. It will only be junk in seconds. More efforts are really in order here. One gun? Why not multiple guns with rockets and other weapons? Why not the use of nano-tube technology for a sheild, against destruction. Why not use metal storm technology. Why not use a stronger track. Why not use the technology used on the CIWS system to shoot out rocket and missiles. Why not have a person in control with an automatic shift of control to shoot down these missiles and rockets using the same radars and laser technology used by CIWS.
4. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
actually the faces of iraqi resistance men will show nothing different than it showed before infront of all u s a army this toy will never make change
3. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
WOW... I am an engineering student at North Carolina State University. I have been talking to my friends about stuff like this and how I wanted to be able to design and build robotic weapons to send into combat. This came along after a family member was killed in Iraq along with watching a lot of Terminator movies. This was a vision I had and had no idea that there was actual progress in the development. If at any way possible I would love to have some contact info on this company that is building this robot.
2. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
First step to finally build a robocop and save lives of good guys.
1. RE: Real-Life Transformer Could Be First Robot to Fire in Combat
wow it would be hilarious to see the reaction on the enemies faces
Well We Hold Robots Accountable For War Crimes?
Now that the military is using autonomous surveillance/combat robots created by iRobot, the company behind the Roomba robot vacuum, a strange question emerges: What do we do if a robot commits a war crime?
This isn't idle speculation. An automated anti-aircraft cannon's friendly fire killed nine soldiers in South Africa last year, and computer scientists speculate that as more weapons (and aircraft) are robot-controlled that we'll need to develop new definitions of war crimes. In fact, the possibility of robot war crimes is the subject of a panel at an upcoming conference at Stanford.
The conference, called Technology in Wartime (caveat: I'm helping to organize it), will feature a panel of expert roboticists and ethicists dealing with what happens when mobile, autonomous robots become soldiers -- and have the potential to malfunction catastrophically. Ronald Arkin from Georgia Tech's mobile robots lab will be speaking, as well as Rutgers techno-ethicist Peter Asaro.
Other panels at the conference will deal with recent government research into cyberterrorism, as well as ways that human rights and civil liberties workers are using sneaky software to aid dissidents in war-torn countries. Featured speakers include computer security hero Bruce Schneier, EFF's legal director Cindy Cohn, e-voting expert and former ACM president Barbara Simons, human rights software crusader Patrick Ball, National Academy of Science's Herb Lin, Danger Room's Noah Shachtman, and sly computer security expert (and Sarah Connor Chronicles hater) Kevin Poulsen.
The conference is open to the public (entrance fee gets you free lunch, a t-shirt, and serves as a donation to nonprofit Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility). Students get in cheap! There's still time to register if you want to come. Technology in Wartime [conference site
Killer Robot Mega Post
As if a network of remote-controlled, Taser-equipped sentry stations wasn't unnerving enough. Ladies and gentlemen: your stun gun-packing robot.
iRobot Corporation -- maker of bomb-handling and floor-sweeping machines -- has teamed up with the shocketeers at Taser International "to develop new robots that can remotely engage, incapacitate and control dangerous suspects," a company statement pronounces.
The idea is to quip a PackBot with a X26 stun gun, giving "SWAT, law enforcement and military" types "a new ability to control dangerous suspects while keeping personnel, the suspect and bystanders out of harm's way."
For the last several years, robot-makers have been equipping their recon and bomb-disposal 'bots with weapons -- including rocket-launchers and machine guns. But the military has been reluctant to take any of the machines into battlezones. What one of 'em starts spazzing out, and accidentally shoots up a friendly squad? But, armed with a Taser, there wouldn't be nearly as much risk. Although the potential for stun gun abuse or mayhem would be, uh, considerable.
Northrop Grumman F6A
Northrop Grumman Andros Mark V-A1
hrop Grumman - Remotec's Wolverine police robot
Northrop Grumman Robots Tackle Security At The Superbowl
Northrop Grumman has provided technical support, repairs, and service for Remotec-produced robots that were used to bolster security during the match-up between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Northrop Grumman subsidiary, Remotec, assisted the Phoenix and Glendale Police Departments by supporting Remotec-built robots provided by multiple agencies, including the Arizona Department of Public Safety; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and the Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, Glendale and Phoenix police departments. Remotec will also provide spare robots for additional support.
"We supported the event and hopefully went unnoticed by fans. Our job wasn't to be a disruption but to keep danger at a distance," said Mack Barber, president of Remotec, an operating unit of Northrop Grumman's Mission Systems sector. "We were proud to be a part of the security efforts for this national event."
Northrop Grumman provides a variety of hazardous duty robots, including the HD-1, F6A, Mark V-A1, Mini-Andros II, and Wolverine, to detect and defeat a wide array of explosives and other hazardous materials. The company will assist more than 800 officers from numerous agencies in patrolling a two-square mile security zone around the stadium.
For more than 25 years, Remotec has served the military, explosive ordnance disposal units, hazardous materials units, and other first responders as a leading provider of mobile robotic systems for application into a variety of undesirable, hazardous, and potentially life-threatening environments.
Arizona law enforcement agencies will use robots to help maintain security at the Super Bowl to be held Feb. 3 at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
Northrop Grumman Corp. will provide support and repair services for the robots, produced by its Remotec Inc. division.
The robots will assist officers on patrol in a two-square-mile security zone around the stadium. They will assist the Phoenix and Glendale, Ariz. Police departments as well as other federal, state and local agencies at the game.
“We're here to support the event and hopefully go unnoticed by fans. Our job isn't to be a disruption but to keep danger at a distance," said Mack Barber, president of Remotec, an operating unit of Northrop Grumman's Mission Systems sector.
The robots are about 3 feet high and move on wheels. Some will be in the public view and possibly patrolling with officers, and some will be in enclosed areas and only brought out if they are needed, said Northrop Grumman spokesman George Seffers.
Northrop Grumman builds robots for handling hazardous materials and other risky jobs. The robots typically help fire and police departments with explosive disposal units and hazardous material cleanup.
Northrop Grumman of Los Angeles ranks No. 3 on Washington Technology’s 2007 Top 100 list of the largest federal government prime contractors.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) THE REAL LIFE SKYNET!
THEY ARE HERE!
DARPA's robotic hand
Gallery: Inside the Navy's Armed Killer Robot Labs
By Dave Bullock
01.31.08 | 3:40 PM
SAN DIEGO -- The Navy's MDARS-E is an armed robot that can track anything that moves. Told that I was the target, the unmanned vehicle trained its guns on me and ordered, "Stay where you are," in an intimidating robot voice. And yes, it was frightening.
Perched atop a strip of cliffs lining a beautiful section of the Pacific Ocean, the Space and Naval Warfare System Command in San Diego develops semiautonomous armed robots for use in combat by the U.S. military. "We're not building Skynet" says Bart Everett, the technical director for robotics at SPAWAR. Though Everett assured me that the use of the robots' on-board weapons is under the strict control of their operators, the lab's bots can navigate and map complicated terrain, work cooperatively with soldiers and identify and confront hostile targets. Sure, they're no Johnny Five, but robots with guns are both creepy and fascinating.
Want To Submit A Wacky Crazy Killer Robot Idea To DARPA ? Click!
The MDARS-E (Mobile Detection Assessment and Response System - Exterior) robot is an armed, unmanned vehicle that can navigate complicated environments autonomously. Decked out with a wide array of high-tech sensors and controlled by a sophisticated software system, the MDARS-E gives the recent Darpa (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) challenge participants a run for their money. More information about this vehicle follows on the next page.
The MDARS-E is intended to drive around urban and rural environments looking for bad guys. As it's cruising, it reports its findings in real time to a guard station. Once the guard identifies an entity as an intruder, the MDARS-E trains its guns on the target and, in an ominous robotic voice, warns him to stay put. If given the command, the robot will first fire a warning shot at the target’s feet, and then, if ignored, it will shoot the target.
The vehicle model that SPAWAR demonstrated for us was outfitted with nonlethal weapons. These pneumatic robotic guns (top left and top right) fire munitions that are like paint balls with fins to increase distance and accuracy. Some of these pellets can mark targets or release pepper spray on contact.
The MDARS-E uses a stereoscopic robotic camera system for navigation (bottom left) as well as cameras mounted on the weapons for targeting. A LADAR system (bottom right) uses 24 beams to build an image of the surrounding terrain.
ROBART III is a prototype platform designed in-house at SPAWAR. If it weren't for the chain gun and missiles, he would be pretty cute. Once he's ready for battle he'll almost certainly don an evil-looking suit of armor. ROBART's sensor array consists of a multitude of cameras, SICK LIDAR (like radar, but with lasers), ultrasonic transducers (gold spots), passive IR (infrared radiation) detectors and more. The weapons are planned to work in unison with a special rifle that would automatically target where a soldier points his weapon.
One of ROBART III's weapon systems is this nonlethal pneumatic chain gun. It uses a combination of laser sighting and machine vision to lock in on its target and barrages it with a torrent of 3/16-inch-diameter projectiles. In tests, plastic pellets (like air-soft munitions) and steel darts were used.
This prototype robotic weapon platform is designed to be buried underground for camouflaged deployment. When called to action, the robotic gun pops up and starts shooting. If you're the unlucky soul on the business end of this gun, it's likely curtains for you -- this robot is an extremely accurate shooter. A high-tech night-vision scope (bottom right) permits dead-on targeting even during moonless nights.
The FIRRE may look deadly and efficient, but it has a serious design flaw. Though the tank treads allow it to cross nearly any obstacle, the lack of suspension slowly destroys any type of robotic weapon system that is mounted to it. SPAWAR tried, unsuccessfully, to lessen the rough ride by mounting the robo-gun with shock-absorbing cabling. The FIRRE platform is no longer being considered for battlefield deployment.
The robots in service in Iraq and Afghanistan often see as much dangerous action as their human counterparts. Frequently in the process of disarming IEDs, they end up getting blown apart and saving many lives in the process. These $100,000 robots aren’t just tossed in the trash -- many of them are sent back to SPAWAR for repair.
At left, Fire Controlman 2nd Class Mendel Baker tests a communication module for a robot damaged in theater. Normally one working robot can be reassembled using parts salvaged from three broken bots.
Most of the current generation robots in service in Iraq are controlled wirelessly. To extend the range control, SPAWAR researchers developed a self-deploying wireless repeater payload. The robot shoots these spring-loaded repeater modules out their tail ends and they pop open to reveal an elevated antenna (right). The researchers are currently working on a smaller and more rugged version of this system.
This robotic boat navigates autonomously using a combination of nautical maps, radar, LADAR and cameras. The USV (Unmanned Surface Vehicle) is SPAWAR’s latest project designed to fill a variety of nautical robotic needs. The sensor array (top) is an impressive addition to the relatively stock Seadoo boat platform (bottom left). The USV uses a complex software suite, which a group of researchers are fine-tuning (bottom right).
This little robot is outfitted with a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) scanner as well as a set of stereo cameras that allow it to autonomously navigate through confined spaces and make maps of its progress (below). The robot can also be given a command to follow a soldier through a building, which it will happily obey. The black boxes on the map represent doors detected by the LIDAR.
This four-wheeled unmanned vehicle (left) is a mobile launching and refueling station for the aerial robot (gray) resting on top of it. The vehicle can take off, land on the platform and refuel without any human intervention. A complex fire-control system (top right) is required to handle the volatile fuel that powers the aerial robot. The ground vehicle can take a variety of payloads, including a robotic weapon mount (bottom right).
This poster hangs in the SPAWAR offices and gives perspective on the exponential leaps forward in robot autonomy over a relatively short amount of time. View the Evolving Paradigms of Human-Robot Interaction poster (pdf).
Few people realize that military robots and humans have been interacting since World War II when the Germans used remote controlled tanks in battle (while staying within eyesight of the vehicle). These were teleoperated vehicles, just like those used in Iraq and Afghanistan today.
In the SPAWAR laboratory, human-robot interaction has come a long way, especially in the last three years, as robots have gone from mapping an area by themselves (full autonomy), to mapping and then leading a human through an area (semiproximal autonomy), to working fully with a human partner (proximal autonomy). You’ve come a long way, robo-baby.
Photo: Dave Bullock/Wired
SWORD robots already deployed to kill Iraqis - an experiment before US citizens see them patrolling their streets!
Adam Gettings, self-taught engineer and co-founder of Robotex, with the model MH robot armed with gas-powered AA-12 full automatic shotgun
For the past 2-1/2 years, we have been reporting in these columns about the growing problems generating by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's visionary Future Combat Systems program to make the U.S. armed forces unbeatable in the 21st century.
FCS had the ambitious vision of integrating the firepower of combat forces of the U.S. Army through a wireless network in real time. It offered the prospect of field commanders video conferencing with front-line officers in tanks on the battlefield. It offered the vision of minimizing combat casualties by sending in large numbers of robots to defuse mines and open ways through battlefields.
The program was one of the most costly in the history of the U.S. Army. The Washington Post Friday said its estimated cost was $200 billion. As we have previously reported in these columns, some estimates from the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office have already gone 50 percent higher than that. And even those estimates assumed that the basic concepts of the program were sound and that it would work as projected.
In fact, as the Post reported Friday, the number of lines of software code required by the project has more than doubled in only the past five years. The Army originally reckoned it needed 33.7 million lines of code. Now it reckons it needs 63.8 million. The paper also cited Dennis Muilenberg, Boeing's project manager on the FCS, as maintaining that the original estimate was 55 million lines of software, not 33 million.
No one doubts that interconnectivity and rapid response is vital on the battle field. No one doubts the U.S. armed forces have enjoyed a decisive global superiority in applying these key technologies over the past quarter century. And no one with any sense doubts that it should be a top priority goal to seek to retain that advantage through the coming decades.
But as we have warned in these columns before, the FCS from the very beginning appeared doomed to failure: It sought to replace the flexibility easily available in modern off-the-shelf communications technology with enormously ambitious and rigid integrated goals that swallowed up limitless resources.
Yet, as we reported 2-1/2 years ago, three-star Army generals were cautiously warning back in August 2005 that the very concept of the FCS leaves it dangerously vulnerable to cyber-attack -- a form of asymmetrical warfare that China in particular has given top priority to, and that is also being developed energetically by Russia and India.
These concerns have since become more widespread. The Post report cited a warning from the Defense Science Board, which advises the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as saying last year, "Malicious code is a key concern of the FCS program (and it) lacks confidence in current tools for detecting malicious code."
In other words, the key strategic conception for continuing U.S. battlefield superiority for at least 20 years to come depends on an integrated software system that is still being developed, and that is certain to be vulnerable to hostile cyber-attacks even when it is finally completed.
But that is only the first of the strategic and conceptual problems that the FCS mega-project faces. There are even more fundamental ones.