Armor: Troops Test Robotic Stryker



December 4, 2006: This past Summer, the U.S. Army conducted experiments with robotic Stryker armored vehicles. Several Strykers were equipped with robotic drivers, and additional sensors that enabled a computer to participate in tactical decision making. The main objective of the experiment was to see how troops would react to this type of automation. There were two surprises. First, the troops were not overloaded by all the sensor input and computer acticvity. The soldiers, who spent more time playing video games than their parents approved of, were used to lots of things happening on computer screens. They were able to deal with multiple sightings of "enemy troops", some of them firing RPGs or assault rifles, and were able to take cues from the software about who was the most dangerous threat was, and used their remote controlled .50 caliber machine-gun effectively. More importantly, the troops trusted the cameras and software (which suggested which attackers were more dangerous), and quickly became a "man-machine team" with all the automation.

The bad news was that the troops did not like the robotic driver of the vehicle. The software controlled driver worked, but the troops were accustomed to having a human at the wheel. They didn't mind completely unmanned Strykers (which were also tested), but when they were inside one of these automated vehicles, they wanted more control over the driving. As a result of this, the vehicle designers are working on a "semi-automated" driver system, so that one of the troops has some active role in the movement of the vehicle. 

The software isn't robust enough for combat use yet, but it was close enough to give the troops a realistic experience with what the perfected system would be like. It appears that many hours spent playing video games does have value for those planning a military career. Parents are not going to enjoy hearing this, even those who play the games themselves. The kid can now claim more time on the PS3, insisting that it might save his life down the line.