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How Robot Armies Will Work

Robot Tools and Weapons
The proposed MULE Unmanned Ground Vehicle will be able to carry weapons like missile launchers or machine guns.
The proposed MULE Unmanned Ground Vehicle will be able to carry weapons like missile launchers or machine guns.

Currently, there are robots on the market that can carry and fire weapons like shotguns, pepper spray, grenade launchers, or even Hellfire missiles. The MULE ARV-A-L robot can fire a line-of-sight gun and anti-tank weaponry. Remote controlled TALON robots can carry everything from an M240 machine gun to a .50 caliber rifle to grenades and rocket launchers. The South Korean patrol robot can either fire non-lethal rubber bullets at intruders, or carry a K-3 machine gun -- a light machine gun similar to the M249.

The U.S. Marine Corps' Gladiator Tactical Unmanned Ground Vehicle (TUGV) will be able to carry an arsenal of lethal and non-lethal weapons, including:

  • Shoulder-launched, Multi-purpose Assault Weapons (SMAW), designed to destroy bunkers, disable armored vehicles and break through fortifications
  • M240 or M249 machine guns
  • Light Vehicle Obscurant Smoke System (LVOSS), a device that launches smoke grenades
  • Anti-personnel Obstacle Breaching System (APOBS), a rocket that tows a line connected to fragmentation grenades; it's designed to destroy obstacles like landmines

A large, heavy robot could handle weapons that are too cumbersome, heavy, dangerous or powerful for humans. The ARV-A could carry a medium-caliber cannon, a missile system and a heavy machine gun system. The Army intends to use robots like the ARV-A primarily as support for manned vehicles, so the armament has to be comparable to a tank's.

Artist's illustrations of
Artist's illustrations of

Other tools will include sensors and cameras to allow the robots to perceive and navigate through a variety of hazardous environments. Robots like the Gladiator will have thermal imaging cameras, devices that detect heat and produce images that humans can see. Most robots will also have normal video cameras as well.

A major goal of the FCS project is to create a universal platform that the Army and other forces can incorporate into military systems from now on. One of the challenges the military has faced over the years is that it relies on a mix of equipment, vehicles and software that aren't integrated with one another, making battle coordination and tactical discussions difficult. Ideally, all military robots will share a common platform, giving officers the option to rely on multiple robots in a complex mission. For example, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles could keep an area under surveillance, broadcasting information to Unmanned Ground Vehicles as they enter the area.

In the next section, we'll learn about why some people are concerned about the possibility of robot armies.