Support: Where Did The 6,000 Combat Robots Come From?


p> April 3, 2007:  In the last three years, over 6,000 robots have been shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan. Most are of the small (under fifty pound) variety. They are used to check for roadside bombs, and to lead searches into buildings and caves suspected of containing hostile gunmen. The Department of Defense plans to spend over $200 million a year for new robots in the future.


Back in 2001, decades of research and development had produced small robots (they look like miniature tanks, without guns) that could use video cameras and microphones to check out suspected bombs, or search collapsed buildings for victims. These robots were rugged enough for combat, and began showing up in Afghanistan, and later Iraq. But with combat experience, came firm guidelines regarding how the robots should work. Cheaper and more effective sensors (vidcams, microphones, heat and motion detection) made the robots more aware of their surroundings. The expanding video games industry contributed ideas for better operator tools. A generation of recruits who had been raised on video games provided easy-to-train robot operators. Some of the new sensors can even smell (to detect explosives), and some the robots can even operate on their own if they lose contact with their human operator.


As the robots got cheaper and more reliable and capable, the demand skyrocketed. The number of robots in use went from less than 200 in 2004, to over 5,000 today. The U.S. has held back on arming these robots, which still spend most of their time under human (remote) control. But Israel is arming some of its robots, and more robots that operate on their own (usually for patrolling buildings or perimeters) are coming into use. American troops today take robots for granted, and look forward to new features, even droids that go out and do their job without a human operator.