Infantry: SUGV, Son of PackBot


April 18, 2007: The U.S. Army is moving up the deployment of its new infantry robot, the SUGV (Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle). This is a smaller version of the PackBot, which is made by iRobot (manufacturer of the first mass market house cleaning robot, the Roomba). The SUGV is part of the FCS (Future Combat Systems), and was not scheduled to appear for another four years. But the success of PackBot, and similar small combat robots, and rapid progress in developing the SUGV, has caused the army to change the plan. If the army can get enough money, it can have SUGV in the hands of the troops next year.

SUGV is a 30 pound robot, with seven different "mission packages." These include various types of sensors and double jointed arms (for grabbing things.) SUGV is waterproof and shock resistant. It fits into the standard army backpack, and is meant to operate in a harsh environment. The battery powered SUGV is operated wirelessly, or via a fiber optic cable, using a controller that looks like a video game controller with a video screen built in. Like the PackBot, SUGV can climb stairs, maneuver over rubble and other nasty terrain.

Its design based largely on feedback from combat troops, SUGV will be rugged enough to be quickly thrown into a room, or cave, activated and begin sending the video, as well as audio, of what is in there. This alone makes it very popular with the troops. No one likes being the first one going into dark, potentially dangerous, places. Throwing a grenade in first doesn't always work, because sometimes frightened civilians are in there.

SUGV can also perform outpost and listening post work. These are two dangerous jobs the infantry are glad to hand off to a robot. Outposts are, as the name implies, one or two troops dug in a hundred meters or so from the main position, to give early warning of an enemy attack. A listening post is similar, but the friendly troops are often much farther away. The SUGV battery enables it to just sit in one place, listening and watching, for eight hour or more. You send out another SUGV with a fresh battery, and have the other one come back for a recharge. No risk of troops getting shot at while doing the same things, and the troops really appreciate that.

Other dangerous jobs for the SUGV are placing explosives by a door (to blow it open for the troops), or placing a smoke grenade where it will prevent the enemy from seeing the troops move. In the last three years, users of PackBot have filled military message boards with interesting uses they have found for these robots, and new features they could make use of. SUGV is the product of all that chatter, and the troops want it ASAP.




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