May 27, 2016:
Since 2001 Israel has developed several generations of armed UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles). The latest of these is Dogo, a smaller (12 kg/26 pounds), more aware (constant 360 degree camera coverage) and more lethal remotely controlled robot. Dogo was designed with lots of input from soldiers and police who have been using UGVs for over a decade. Dogo is armed with a 9mm pistol loaded with 14 rounds and aimed by cameras dedicated to aiming the pistol accurately at ranges of up to 50 meters. Commandos and SWAT teams can carry one or more battery operated Dogos with them on missions that can benefit from a very mobile (it can climb steps) UGV that has night vision, is quiet and can hear as well as broadcast whatever the operator has to say (like hostage negotiation or demanding surrender). Many of these features have been found in earlier UGVs but never one as small or as capable.
Since 2006 the Israeli military is moving its UGVs from guard duty to the battlefield. During that time Israeli infantry and several new generations of UGVs have been working together to see exactly what works and what doesn’t. The basic idea here is to have UGVs with good enough sensors to successfully move across a battlefield in front of troops and look out for mines, roadside bombs, ambushes or any signs of the enemy at all. This gives the troops following close behind a better idea of what nasty surprises the enemy has for them and an opportunity to avoid lots of casualties and hit harder than the enemy expected. Dogo can do this as well as have its 9mm weapon replaced with pepper spray, a blinding flash or other non-lethal devices to deal with human threats.
Both Israel and the United States have already discovered that armed UGVs are not very successful on their own, but Israel believes that new designs, operating in close cooperation (as an advanced guard while moving into hostile territory) with infantry and manned armored vehicles might work well enough to justify regular use. The new UGVs are similar to the armed four wheeled vehicles Israel has been successfully using for guard duty along the Gaza and Lebanon borders. The eventual success of these UGVs encouraged trying to use them in combat.
Previous use of armed UGVs in active combat zones showed that these systems were vulnerable to attack and interference, which are the main reasons for not using them. Unless the cameras, and other sensors (sound, heat and seismic) can pick up hostiles far enough away, the remotely controlled weapon can be destroyed, along with many of the sensors, thus blinding the operators. By 2009 both the U.S. and Israel had developed smaller armed robots. The American systems is called Swords (Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detecting System). This is a 57 kg (125 pound) remotely controlled vehicles that looked like miniature tanks. These were 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 in 2008. 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).
Israel has a similar system called Viper that carries a 9mm machine pistol (an Uzi) and can carry explosives, along with the usual video camera and microphones. Both Swords and Viper do have their uses, like entering very dangerous situations (like a cave or building believed occupied by fanatical gunmen). The droids can also be used for guard duty in dangerous locations (where the enemy might get a shot off, or toss a grenade.) But no matter what you have the battle robots do, the mechanical grunts lack the same degree of situational awareness of a human soldier. The sensors used on droids (mainly visual and acoustic) are getting better, as is the software that can quickly evaluate what the sensors see and hear. But humans can also smell, and feel (on their skin), as well as use superior vision and hearing. Until the sensors get better, the combat robots will always be at a disadvantage. But if used with those disadvantages kept in mind, the robots do have their uses. Dogo is the latest effort to expand that usefulness.