February 28, 2008:
The U.S. Department
of Defense found that it was pretty simple to adapt existing technology to
create a remotely controlled combat vehicle, at least after over a decade of
trying. In this case, it's a seven ton,
cross country, wheeled vehicle (the "Crusher"). Equipped with sensors and
cameras, Crusher came out of a project to develop a truly robotic vehicle. In
the meantime, researchers took existing video game controllers and quickly
rigged them to serve as Crushers remote controls. This made it easy for people
raised on video games to operate the vehicles. An iPhone was modified, over a
weekend, to provide additional controls.
The purpose of all this is to provide
battlefield supply, and combat, vehicles that reduce friendly casualties.
Moreover, unmanned vehicles can be used more boldly, and worked harder (because
the operators are at a remote location.) The air force stations its Predator
operators back in the United States, using a satellite link. The same could be
done with vehicles like Crusher. If these vehicles were available in Iraq and
Afghanistan during the past three years, over a thousand American lives would
have been saved, along with thousands who were wounded by roadside bombs.
Unmanned vehicles can be sent over nasty terrain, that would be too great a
risk to a human crew, or into more dangerous combat situations. In both cases,
the unmanned vehicles enable a commander to make more drastic moves, and give
the enemy more things to worry about.
The technology for remotely controlled
ground vehicles is pretty much there, and could be available for the troops in
five years or less. The completely autonomous vehicles will take a bit longer,
but such vehicles have already performed well in tests and competitions.