December 1, 2009  

Robotic contractors

Technically speaking, UAVs, guided missiles, torpedoes and unmanned submarines are robots. There are about 50 countries that have or are developing military robots. Many have chemical, temperature and radiation sensors, some are armed with Uzis (the Israeli VIPeR) or grenade launchers and other weapons.

Robots take many shapes, from the “WALL-E” ground-vehicle design to the familiar UAVs to the more creative lobster/fish/eels and now even one described as a “blob” that can be shaped in any number of ways, much like Silly Putty.

BAE Systems is developing a variety of miniature robots to enhance situational awareness and expand the ability to gather intelligence from challenging terrain, such as mountainous areas and caves.

Boston Dynamic builds advanced robots designed for mobility, agility, dexterity and speed. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Army, Navy and Marine Corps are among the customers. Boston Dynamics produces robots that look like the multilegged combat things from “Star Wars” movies, with names like Big Dog, Little Dog and RHex. RHex is a versatile machine, able to climb rocks, navigate through mud, sand and vegetation, cross railroad tracks and make its way up telephone poles, slopes and stairways.

Foster-Miller, a unit of QinetiQ North America, builds several families of robots designed to undertake many tasks. The Dragon Runner, which weighs 15 to 50 pounds, is a four-wheel reconnaissance vehicle that can be carried by foot soldiers. The 80-180 pound Talon also has applications in civilian police use, including the ability to mount a loudspeaker for communications with the bad guys. The 300-400 pound MAARS is an armed robot. TAGS is a 5,000-6,000 pound vehicle that can perform a variety of missions and has a robotic arm.

And iRobot produces a variety of robots for civilian and military use.