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Robots have long been part of military operations and have aided military personnel in achieving certain tasks that might be impossible for a human to do, which is why it’s no surprise that robot dogs are now being built to be recruited into the army. Unlike the autonomous robotic quadrupeds in the Metalhead episode of “Black Mirror” who are seen as extreme killing machines to a fault, the robot dogs currently being invested by the military are programmed to be strategic partners of and company for soldiers depending on the military units it’s assigned to.
Currently, the US Air Force is using robot dogs with cutting-edge technology to protect its facilities. Built by Ghost Robotics, Vision 60, are the US Air Force’s robot dogs that were designed to conduct remote inspection, surveillance, and mapping missions. Vision 60 will also be deployed at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida to patrol perimeters of its air bases, replacing stationary surveillance cameras.
The US Air Force also notes how these robotic dogs of Ghost Robotics, otherwise known as a quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicles as coined by CEO Jiren Parikh, gives them a notable advantage in terms of information and security. Made to be semi-autonomous while equipped with a cutting-edge sensor package and several cameras, the unmanned ground vehicle can provide content in the diverse terrain and areas it’s able to patrol and examine that otherwise would have been too dangerous for humans or aerial drones to enter.
Aside from the Tyndall Air Force Base, the 325th Security Forces Squadron is also working with Ghost Robotics as they are recruiting Vision 60 into their patrolling regiment and in transmitting information through secure channels.
A different robotics company, Boston Dynamics, has agreed to a deal with the French Army and British Army. The British Ministry of Defence has revealed that it has struck a major deal with Boston Dynamics for their Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) to supply four-legged robots to their army. These battery-powered and tabled controlled robot dogs will be used to support their troops on the front line and perform “non-offensive tasks” of searching, scanning, and delivering medicine or food into areas of disaster.
As we most often hear, information is power – and the military sees robot dogs as a means to attain this through their cutting-edge technology, features, and programs.
“Modern warfare demands data and information at the edge, anywhere on Earth… Potential adversaries are investing heavily in these fields, and we must exploit new approaches to sustain the advantage,” states Chief of Space Operations, John Raymond.
In relation to this, Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said in a statement, “Future battlefields will be characterized by information saturation. One of the key objectives of this onramp was to present a dizzying array of information for participants to synthesize, just like they would see in a real operation.”
Given how AI “soldier” dogs are able to patrol unchartered territories, be deployed in diverse terrain with several cameras, and monitor unmanned ground, it only makes sense for the military to invest in these quadrupedal robots to retrieve valuable data and information, which may have been difficult to attain because of dangers or human limitations. As explained by Air Force Staff Sergeant, Javier Rodriguez, LIDAR-equipped robots will be useful for reconnaissance and disaster relief information.
Another reason the military is investing in these quadrupedal dogs is due to their ability in having systems altered and programmed accordingly to their benefit and advantage. “Strategic partners can build solution-specific [Quadrupedal Unmanned Ground Vehicles] for virtually any use-case with their choice of sensors, radios and even size the robot to suit specific requirements by licensing our reference designs,” according to Ghost Robotics’ website.
If we do the math, the US Air Force’s $3.3 billion 5-year budget meant to create its combat management systems will only take a small beating should they decide to purchase an army of Ghost Robotics’ Vision 60, which are priced at $150,000 each. Even if they do decide to order add-ons of specialized sensors, thus increasing the final price of Vision 60, this would still take up a minor component of their billion budget. Ultimately, investing in these quadrupedal dogs may not be at all expensive for the military.
As they are programmed and designed with the primary goal of keeping troops safe, these four-legged robot “soldiers” provide many benefits to the military.
Going beyond the usual behavior of a guard dog or military dog to bite, bark, and smell, the capability of these robot dogs are similar to that of a soldier– carry weapons, communicate through a speaker, and unlike humans, even remote inspection to detect biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiation threats. In addition to that, the robot dogs of Ghost Robotics can outperform humans in the most basic of drills like climbing, crawling, walking, and running at a speed of ten feet per second maximum.
“Robotics and autonomous systems are becoming increasingly crucial in helping soldiers to function quicker, for longer, and to stand back from some of the most difficult and dangerous duties,” said Suzy Harris, FCG’s head of expeditionary robotics. According to Ms. Harris, if the robots are on a mission and run out of power, they are designed to return to their dock – but not before sending a signal to another robot dog to continue the operation.
Having a four-legged robotic soldier constantly patrolling and ensuring the security of both the troops and civilians is a major benefit that any branch of the military would sign up for.
Although there are reservations about robot dogs being recruited and used by the military with regard to the possibility of future malfunctions that can lead to lethal repercussions, the CEO of Ghost Robotics responds to this by saying that a robot dog is akin to drones since it’s not fully autonomous and will require a remote human operator.
Overall, the quadrupedal AI is seen as a strategic partner for the military in its ability to outperform some humans in tasks and use cutting-edge technology and innovation that will boost the manpower and capabilities of the troops.
Ghost Robotics’ client presentations claim a number of US and allied governments as partners, such as the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Department of Homeland Security, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Command, Singapore’s Ministry of Defense, and the Australian Army, among others. Vision 60 is Ghost Robotics’ robotic dog soldier.
Boston Dynamics’ robotic dog soldier is Spot, which is designed to automate sensing and inspection, capture data and information, and explore terrains, especially disaster zones to help front-line troops. Currently, the French Army and British Army are using Spot.