October 8, 2010:
Earlier this year, the U.S. Marine Corps began evaluating the "Rover" armored robots (based on the Segway personal transporter) for use in more realistic combat training. Also called ARNLT (Autonomous Robots Networked for Live-fire Training), the face on the robot bears a resemblance to a certain state governor (who once played a combat robot in a movie). These robots serve as realistically moving targets for troops practicing their marksmanship. Based on the marine testing so far, the manufacturer has added more armor to ARNLT's electronics. This was necessary because the device was originally to provide more accurate testing for snipers, not for marines practicing combat tactics in fire fights.
The ARNLT armor protects the mechanical and electrical portions (against 7.62mm and 5.56mm bullets) of the Segway, which carries a lifelike mannequin atop its mechanical components and battery. The lightweight wheels are easily replaceable. Each Rover weighs 150 kg/330 pounds and is 180 cm (nearly six feet) tall. Rover has GPS and a laser rangefinder that enables it to follow general instructions from the instructor. Rover's navigation computer has pre-installed patterns of movement, and new ones can be created and stored by instructors. The precise movements of Rover are unpredictable, teaching troops a battlefield reality.
When troops hit the mannequins on a Rover, the Rover stops and the mannequin moves to a horizontal position. The mannequins are not bulletproof, but are instrumented and take hundreds of hits before needing replacement. Instructors can program a group of Rovers so that if one is shot, the others will scatter realistically. Depending on the type of terrain it is operating over, the battery powered Rover will last eight hours or more getting shot at before a recharge is necessary.
The main market for Rover is police and paramilitary organizations. The marines are evaluating a dozen or so Rover units for military use, and bring in the other services to try it out as well. The military is particularly interested in seeing if Rover will better train the troops to deal with the unpredictable nature of urban warfare, and the need to avoid civilian casualties. If the tests go well, the rest of the contract will be carried out. The marine testing will continue into next year, and the final decision on ARNLT will be made by next Summer. Marines could be using ARNLT for combat training a year from now.