Armor: The Fearless Robotank

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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.

 


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