Washington – They did it Walk the lanes at defense conferences, but a robotic version of man’s best friend might not be coming to the military anytime soon.
Two U.S.-based robotics companies, Boston Dynamics and Ghost Robotics, produce four-wheel drive unmanned ground vehicles, or robotic dogs. At the US Army’s annual conference last year, Ghost Robotics unveiled an armed version of the “Dog,” fitted with a 6.5mm Creedmoor assault rifle, as part of a partnership with Sword International.
The technology, which typically costs $50,000 to $150,000 depending on the make and model, requires further development before it can head to the battlefield, according to officials with the Army’s robotics program.
“These legged platforms have some of the promise that we’ve identified, primarily from a mobility standpoint,” Milot Riseli, head of the Disassembled Robotic Systems Branch at the Army’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center, told C4ISRNET. “There are also limitations to their stamina [perspective]as well as the load capacity and strength of the amount they can support.”
The development of the robotic dog took nearly two decades. In 2004, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched Project BigDog with the hope that the robot would act as a pack mule and accompany soldiers in terrain too rugged for conventional vehicles.
Both the Air Force and the Department of Homeland Security explored the use of patrol platforms. This summer, the Space Force conducted a demonstration at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, to demonstrate how ground-based robots can automate manual, repetitive tasks, such as patrols.
According to Robert Sadowski, the service’s chief robotics specialist, the Army hasn’t sent any yet. However, he told C4ISRNET, the Army has pilot programs underway as well as “Project 10x,” which is trying to use the technology to modernize future infantry forces.
Riselli said that the robotics scientists at Project 10X have experimented with the platforms to assess how they can be used and prompted to do more tasks than the current level of technology allows.
But he also said the technology has room to grow in its ability to operate in all weather conditions and in shallow waters.
Unlike large and expensive robotics platforms, the military does not expect to keep smaller robots for more than a decade. Instead, existing recording software for small systems will undergo a technical update 10 years later.
According to Resyli, the next opportunity for platforms with legs to compete for those shows is at the point of refresh, which falls within the next five to ten years. He added, however, that there are now talks about the next iteration of these smaller platforms.
Unlike wheeled or tracked robots, which can fall over rough terrain, legged robots can climb stairs and work on rough surfaces. Quad platforms can also carry payloads, such as cameras and sensors, allowing them to act as early warning systems and put distance between the fighter and threats.
“There are many other tasks, specifically subterranean tasks where the existing track and wheel platforms are very limited because you have small and extensive changes in elevation — whether it’s ramps or steep slopes — that the current platform cannot support,” Riselli said.
Sadovsky suggested that the platforms could replace surveillance missions that might use a quadcopter, a type of drone that uses four rotors or propellers to fly.
Although quadcopters are used in a wide variety of military and tactical surveillance missions, the technology struggles to support longer missions and heavier payloads due to the heavy weight of sensors and limited power capacity — areas where the quads have better capabilities, Sadovsky said.
Kathryn Bokanek is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where she covers artificial intelligence, electronic warfare, and unmanned technologies.
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