Infantry: Living With The Robot Weight Problem


November 29, 2011: Over the last decade, the U.S. Department of Defense has bought about 10,000 UGVs (Unmanned Ground Vehicles). Most of them were 19 kg (42 pound) PackBots [PHOTO], while one of the also-rans was the 50 kg (110 pound) Talon [PHOTO]. Despite always coming in second to PackBot in terms of lightness and orders, there was still demand for Talon. Used mainly by EOD (explosives ordnance disposal) teams to clear mines and roadside bombs, Talon was actually preferred because of its greater heft, and reliability. But there was always greater demand for the lighter and cheaper PackBot.

Talon tried to widen its appeal. One such effort resulted in a Talon variant called SWORDS [PHOTO] (Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detecting System). These were 57 kg (125 pound) remotely controlled vehicles (they look like miniature tanks), armed with a 5.56mm machine-guns and 350 rounds of ammo). Also known as Talon IIIB, the army spent over a year testing them in the United States before sending some to Iraq. There they found there were many ways to mess with Swords. Many tricks didn't even damage the equipment (like having a child or woman come out and throw a towel or sheet over it).

Talon continues to serve, although most business connected with this droid is in upgrades. For example, there is now a fuel cell battery available, which will operate Talon for up to eight hours. There is also a new radio controller, which increases controller range from 100 to 500 meters and no longer require line-of-sight between controller and UGV. There are many more EOD type accessories for Talon, and this hefty UGV remains a favorite for those who deal with mines and roadside bombs.

Currently, the Department of Defense owns about 6,000 of these small robots. Most of them are in the army, and a little over half are in a combat zone. There would be a lot more of these small robots out there if they were a bit smaller and had better sensors. Because of this, efforts to have the infantry regularly use the small robots in combat have not been successful. The older Packbots and Talon were fine for dealing with roadside bombs, but too big and heavy to easily haul around the battlefield. But most troops admitted that if the small droids were a bit smaller and lighter, and had better ability to sense what was around ("situational awareness") them, they would be more welcome.


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