November 24, 2009: The British Army has bought more than 80 Dragon Runner robots, for use by their troops in Afghanistan. Dragon Runner has been around for five years, and the version the British are buying is a tracked version of the original model, which used large wheels.
Back in 2004, the U.S. Marine Corps successfully field tested the original 13 pound Dragon Runner. Built to survive rough handling (like getting tossed out a third story window, or the back of a truck moving at 72 kilometers an hour), the 15 inch long, foot wide and five inch high vehicle ran on four tires. It does this right side up, or upside down. The remotely controlled robot carried day and night cameras, as well as microphones and motion detectors. Normally, it moves along at walking, or creeping, speed. But it can sprint at up to 32 kilometers an hour (about eight meters a second.) This is useful when trying to evade, or avoid, enemy fire. Dragon Runner is not bullet proof, and avoids enemy fire by staying out of the war. The robot can be ordered to just sit in one place and observe. Its motion sensors can pick up people moving from up to ten meters away. Dragon Runner will to alert the operator if anything is detected. The robot is operated via a hand held controller that operates like a hand held game console (Game Boy, Etc.) The controller has a vibration mode for getting alerts from a Dragon Runner on sentry duty. This is because this sort of thing will probably happen at night, when being quiet can be a matter of life and death.
Battery life depends on what the droid is doing. On sentry duty, it can go for up to 24 hours before needing a new battery or recharge. If running around a lot, the battery lasts about four hours. The full name of the droid is Dragon Runner MGS (Mobile Ground Sensor), and it can be equipped with weapons, like explosives or something like a tear gas grenade, to deal with hostile troops inside a cave or bunker, or, more likely, to detonate a road side bomb. For that task, the robot would dump the explosive, which has a radio controlled detonator attached, and then back off. The wireless communications system used to control the robot has a range of up to several hundred meters, depending on how built up the area is. Marines most often used the robot within a hundred meters of where they were. Dragon Runner was in the battle for Fallujah, where it was very useful going into areas that might be covered by enemy snipers, or booby traps. Only a few of the droids were damaged in combat, and most were repaired and returned to duty.
The latest version of Dragon Runner weighs closer to 20 pounds, and is used for dealing with roadside bombs, as well as its original reconnaissance chores. The current Dragon Runner has lots of optional accessories.