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Military Robots of the Future


The imperatives for the research are broad but basic. First and foremost, national security is an overriding factor. In many cases, according to Johnson, robots will be more capable than humans. They will be more lethal, more mobile, and more survivable. They will have faster reaction times and have more and superior sensing capabilities. They don’t have fear, they don’t get hungry, sleepy, or tired, and they take humans out of danger. And, from an economic perspective, they are cheaper than humans.

“The robots will take on a wide variety of forms, probably none of which will look like humans,” explained Dr. Russ Richards, Project Alpha’s director. “Thus, don’t envision androids like those seen in movies. The robots will take on forms that will optimize their use for the roles and missions they will perform. Some will look like vehicles. Some will look like airplanes. Some will look like insects or animals or other objects in an attempt to camouflage or to deceive the adversary. Some will have no physical form – software intelligent agents or cyberbots.”

Richards added that technology could currently deliver many of the capabilities that are envisioned as being necessary for robots. Robotic sensing abilities already exceed that of humans. Billions of dollars are being spent to improve and develop mobility, dexterity, power supplies, miniaturization, weaponry and artificial intelligence. Power supplies and artificial intelligence will be among the biggest challenges ahead, but there are others.

“The greatest hurdle is likely to be overcoming military culture,” Richards said. “Just getting present-day decision makers to allow robots to perform some functions that are currently being performed by humans will be difficult. What is interesting is that we are already doing this. For example, Patriot missile batteries, close-in-weapons systems, cruise missiles, and other “smart” weapons are already pretty autonomous.”

“It will be difficult to overcome the resistance to replacing human pilots, soldiers, sailors, and Marines with robots. Or, to allow machines to make decisions. The case will have to be made based on the imperatives.”

And the clock may be ticking. Perhaps an even larger imperative, according to Richards, is that the United States is not the only nation that recognizes the future of integrated battlefield robotics.

“We believe that other countries or groups will pursue robotics,” Richards said. “We can be at the vanguard, or we can lag behind and some day have to oppose a lethal robotic force. Better to be in the lead.”

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