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Researching Robots that can Perform Dangerous Military Tasks

  • Steve Mort

The US military is ramping up efforts to cut down on the number of troop casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

2500 American military personnel have been killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and over two hundred more have died in Afghanistan.

Now, in an effort to stem the casualties, the Pentagon is funding research into robots that can perform some of the troops' most dangerous tasks.

Steve Mort visited one university that is leading the way in developing robotics technology for the US Army.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of casualties among the US and its allies is mounting Thousands of coalition troops, and as many as 30-thousand Iraqi forces, have been killed since 2003 as insurgents develop new methods, like improvised explosive devices.

"We're trying to keep the American troops out of harm's way".

Emmanuel Collins is leading a project here at Florida State University, which is developing robots that can perform some tasks currently carried out by humans on the battlefield.

"They do reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition, so what we're trying to do is develop the technology to replace the soldier in those particular tasks".

And this is the technology that it is hoped could reduce the carnage. This robot has taken years to develop - and is able to make its way through complicated terrains - without being accompanied by a human - using cameras, lasers and acoustic sensors.

"So we're replacing a soldier driving a vehicle with a robotic vehicle. They're performing very similar tasks but now, of course, the soldier is no longer directly in the line-of-fire for the enemy".

With the toll on US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the pressure is on to develop this technology quickly.

But scientists say it could be ten years before unmanned ground robots are used in actual war situations, because complex technology takes time to perfect.

"We start with simulation, just computer simulation. But the problem with computer simulation is it's difficult to take into account a lot of the factors that actually occur when you actually implement things in hardware. Then our next step is to implement them in our own lab in our own robots which are simpler, smaller robots than the Army is using for these tasks. Then once we have it mastered in our own lab then we transfer it to an Army vehicle that's used specifically for that purpose and then they put it through a gamut of tests".

The military is spending half a million dollars a year at this university on developing this unmanned ground vehicle that uses similar technology to aircraft drones already in use.

In 2004, the US government spent more than sixty billion dollars on this kind of research and development.

"In my view, sitting where I'm sitting, the military has some of the most developed technology in our society, certainly our world. I would say the military is very high-tech and very reliant on its technology for its success".

But for the time-being, the most dangerous jobs in war zones continue to be performed by US troops.

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