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When you hear the words “robot military dog,” what comes to mind?
If you thought “quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicles”, then you’re right. If you thought of a big robot with glowing eyes, you might be right, too.
Military robot dogs are also called Q-UGVs. They’re machines or vehicles with four legs like those of a dog and are usually semi-autonomous, but can be controlled by a human operator when needed. Unlike the usual robot dog meant for domestic use, these military bots are meant for accompanying military personnel in dangerous terrain.
Military-working dogs aren’t new by any means. The U.S. military employs dogs in almost all branches of their service and they’re trained in a lot of tasks that include tracking, patrol, and attack. Even in ancient history, dogs have been trained to fight alongside men in combat – so it’s not too surprising to find that technological advancements have robotized animal companionship too.
That said, military robot dogs are a relatively new technology, which makes it all the more exciting to watch new developments unfold.
We’ve all seen companion robot dogs – fluffy little animals that are modeled after real puppies, barking and cuddling with their owners. Their main selling point is looking, sounding, and acting as close as possible to a pet dog, plus the benefit of a few tricks like singing or doing a backflip.
But military robot dogs are something else entirely. Spot the Robot Dog is a good example – it looks more machine and less man’s best friend.
To be fair, these things weren’t meant to play fetch or beg for belly rubs. Boston Robotics created Spot for a broad range of field activities: navigating dangerous terrain, carrying and transporting heavy objects, and collecting data. It can even pick up objects with its jaws and pick itself up when it falls.
Spot is one of the few dog-like robots that can be hired to work at construction sites, for the military, and in warehouses. In fact, the U.S. army has recruited it – and as of December 2021 was training the dog in field simulations.
It also has plenty of features that make it a valuable asset to any army base. Spot has sensors that can detect nuclear materials. It can examine bombs. It can come to a human’s defense in a warzone by delivering supplies in other critical areas. Things like these aren’t typically found in your everyday robots and even other units of weapons-grade materials in the military and the latest innovations are bound to keep improving on them.
Some are even speculating about the attachment of weapons, such as a sniper rifle, to operate the dog on a battlefield, but there is no official confirmation that the army is taking such a measure in their service. The dog is, however, capable of performing a patrol in remote areas and unmanned ground, thanks to its world-class sensors.
Another example of a military working dog is the Vision 60, or the V60, by Ghost Robotics. Tyndall Air Force Base Master Sgt. Krystoffer Miller explains that the Air Force squadrons plan to expand their “optics of what is possible,” and that includes recruiting these machines for the purpose of enhancing situational awareness.
The V60 was also seen at the Nellis Airfields in 2020, so this isn’t the first time it has proven itself in the defense department and in military settings. The quality of the Ghost Robotics unit also makes it perfect for these services.
The benefit of using robots over a real dog is apparent: in some ways, they’re able to withstand more damage and are more readily equipped to perform in dangerous areas. They are also capable of being programmed with non-conventional tactics. Plus, humans can operate them directly, making it easier to collect specific data on location.
“One huge attraction piece of the robot dogs is that it’s highly mobile and, with the amount of construction we will face over the next few years, it helps us maintain and increase our security posture,” Miller continued.
Ghost Robotics’ V60 is also being looked into by the U.S. Army in line with its ongoing surveillance efforts to ensure autonomous perimeter safety at its headquarters at the Nellis Air Force Base.
The Tyndall Air Force Base is another military company that has employed a Q-UGV from Ghost Robotics and Immersive Wisdom. And no, they aren’t being used as a weapon.
“As a mobile sensor platform, the Q-UGVs will significantly increase situational awareness for defenders,” according to Mark Shackley, Program Management Office at the Tyndall AFB.
The robots also have certain features that serve the interests of the company, such as:
The last one might be the most useful for military forces. Ghost Robotics and Immersive Wisdom have essentially created robots that can detect and even diffuse explosive devices in different locations using a much more precise technology than other sensors, or even a human bomb squad. This might be a sign we’ll see a squadron of robots working in a military company in the future.
As we mentioned above, no robot dogs have been confirmed to be weapon carriers. But the personnel have been vague in this regard, saying that the future use “in other military terms” will be up to the buyer’s imagination. Does this mean that these dogs can engage targets, aiming at enemy camps with assault rifles mounted on their back? The future is uncertain.
This is a common question when talking about military robots. Big Dog was a quadruped robot built and designed by Boston Dynamics and funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The project was scrapped because the dog was said to be too loud for combat.