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Subject: What about robotic infantry?
Treadgar    11/27/2006 10:03:54 AM
In the early 90s I used to play this game called F-19 Stealth Fighter. You flew missions in the Middle East and Russia. As I flew my simulated fighter I imagined my control inputs were being beamed to an unmanned fighter that was flying half a world away. Because my computer was very slow the game play was choppy. My imagination said this was an artifact of jamming or some type of enemy action along those lines. In the real world we see this happening with the predator. There are predators that are now armed. It seems to me this trend will continue. The question is, how far does anyone who reads this think it will go? Will there be robotic infantry, soon, or is that a hundred years in the future? Here are some more questions: 1. If humans control these robotic soldiers remotely, how would such a force be organized? 2. If the ability to jam transmissions is a function of distance do you think it would be best to have controllers near the FEBA to exert localized control? 3. What degree of autonomy would such units have? 4. What might robotic infantry look like? Would you have anthropomorphic designs or something else? 5. Does anyone think a science fiction novel with this kind of setup would be interesting? Treadgar
 
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joe6pack       11/27/2006 10:34:50 AM
Will there be robotic infantry, soon, or is that a hundred years in the future?
 
I think that all depends on the extent and capability you mean.  The technology is here for all sorts of limited application "infantry" style tasks.  There was an article the other day on robotic sentrys.  Robots are being developed for ground reconaissance, forced entries, demolitions detection and disposal.  Heck, I think someone actually won the DARPA competition for a auto navigating / driving car.  There are robotic "mules" in testing / develop for carrying a lot of the load that infantrymen normally get stuck with.
 
Now, if you are talking "Terminator" style robots, I think thats many... many years down the road.
 
1) I would think that would depend on the capability of the robots.
2) I would think a "mobile" robotic infantryman would either need a good deal of automation or a controller that is on the spot.  Remote control of something thats on the ground is a lot more complicated than control of something in the air as terrain can block signals.  Plus, a continual high output signal would be like a beacon for any semi-technical savy oponent that could simply drop artillery on the location.
3) Again, this goes into what level of capability you are looking for.  For a truely robotic infantryman, I'd think you would need a significant level of autonomy. 
4) See my question about level of capability.
5) Yup.
 
J6P
 
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Treadgar    Question #2   11/27/2006 10:57:26 AM
Your right about the communication problems of a local controller. I was thinking local controler because the scenarios I have thought of involve a hostile air environment. As for the level of control a controler might have, I thought maybe you could have something similar to what you see in current first person shooter video games. That might cause bandwidth problems for that kind of input/output regime. That would probably mean lots of communications gear that might break down, could be jammed, and located easily by ELINT units. In that case I figure your autonmy point becomes crucial. Clearly you might want to have some type of backup behavior system that takes over when the controler gets cut out of the loop, perhaps, as you said by someone dropping artillery on the controlers position. Thanks for your ideas.
 
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tomadog02       12/18/2006 7:33:34 PM
I agree with Joe6pack that much of your question depends on the extent and capability you are assuming the robotic infantry to possess.  I believe that many of the capabilities you  would find necessary for robotic infantry are obtainable today but that the key component, autonomous target aquisition and evaluation, are a far way off.  While you could hook-up a robotic sentry to a motion cam and program it simply to open up on anything that moves within that zone, you would create all sorts of problems regarding who you are acutally engaging.  I cannot see autonomous TA occuring within the 20 years.

To address your other questions:

1.  I am basing most of my answers off of a SF novel (actually series...sorry to burst your bubble) that addressed this very idea.  The authors concept would be that the operators would be located nearby the battlefield, but well behind the lines in mobile command posts (think a mobile operations center pulled behind a semi) allowing them both mobility and security.  In the authors concept, all "soft" infantry had been done away with leaving only remote-controlled robotic soldiers in their place. 

2.  Localized control is a definite neccesity, if only to maintain a sharp control of the units in the field and to enable repairs and recovery if necessary.  In order for any sort of controlled robotic infantry unit to be viable in the field you would have to be able to insure that there would be no jamming, otherwise you could effectively eliminate your enemies entire force with a powerful enough jammer.

3.  To be an effective force multiplayer you would like to have some level of autonomy amongst the robotic units.  What I would envision would be one controller for say 3 units.  Each robot would be capable of moving autonomously in-sync with the others, but would not require the direct attendence of a controller.  While the sensory input from 3 units would be too much for one controller to manage, you would need some sort of threat analysis that could call attention and allow the controller to switch from unit to unit for fire control and other functions.  To go in the opposite direction you could have a one-to-one ration for the robotic units and controllers, limiting your sensory information but possible increasing combat efficiency.

4.  The design I envision would be similar to those currently in development but scalled larger.  Double-track chasis with armored torso and stabalized weapon platforms.

5.  I can't remember the exact name of the book or author, but there was an entire series that covered a situation similar to what you are describing.  However, the authors primary focus (and what I beleive represents the greatest challenge to any sort of remote-controlled/robotic infantry) was the threat posed by asymetrical warfare.  While a robotic infantry force would be ideally suited to combating large armored formations, re: 3G warfare, busting caves and urban fighting would be very limiting.  No matter what you are going to have to maintain a human force element in order to be able to effectively combat the enemy.


 
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Treadgar       12/18/2006 10:20:52 PM
Thanks for your reply. I was thinking along similar lines to point # 3. Maybe a fireteam or squad of robotic infantry would be under the control of one human soldier. This controller could flip back and forth from unit to unit as needed or desired. He could also have them under group control, in a similar manner as seen in some computer games, like Starcraft. I'm sure the level of AI portrayed in some of these games would not be up to real world situations.

I also agree with you about urban warfare. That would be exceedingly difficult to execute. Like you I envision mixed forces (combined action teams?), where you still have your good old fashioned grunt. The controlers also better be ready to fight if they have to. 

Yep, jamming is a huge problem. You'd have to have some kind of frequency agile system. But what if someone jams all your frequencies? Is that even possible? If you did have some transmitter element(s) doing that, they'd could be DF'd, then probably targeted. I've heard of software driven communications schemes that might make jamming difficult...but I don't know.

I may have read the novels you're writing about. I can't remember the author's name. I remember one of the novels in the series I'm thinking about took place in Brunei. There the good guys encountered descendants of Japanese troops who were left completely isolated in the jungle since WWII. The old Japanese rifles couldn't punch through the body armor the troops wore.

Treadgar


 
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joe6pack       12/19/2006 12:39:26 PM
"Yep, jamming is a huge problem. You'd have to have some kind of frequency agile system. But what if someone jams all your frequencies? Is that even possible? If you did have some transmitter element(s) doing that, they'd could be DF'd, then probably targeted. I've heard of software driven communications schemes that might make jamming difficult...but I don't know."
 
Just some side information on this.. Yes, current field radios (that can also send data) often use "frequency hopping" as a way to avoid jamming.  The basics of it are that you have a communications network synced to a specific time and algorithm. The systems then rapidly cycle through (what I assume is) a wide band of frequencies (using the time and algorithm to synchronize with each other).  Now, as to how difficult this is to jam, or what capabilities it would require to do so.. I don't know.  Specific information on this kind of signalls stuff is, as you can imagine, pretty well restricted.
 
That being said, frequency hopping doesn't help much against direction finding (at least to the best of my knoweledge - which is not very extensive in this area  )
 
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Treadgar       12/19/2006 5:49:19 PM
There are other problems. Maybe the enemy can hack into your comm. net and turn the 'droid army against you, or cause a systems crash. EMP weapons might be a big problem. I don't know how hard it is to shield against such things, but I seem to remember it isn't cheap, which means it will really be hard.

Imagine the logistics, all those machines that will have to be maintained from the wear and tare of field operations. Lots of problems. Lots of questions. The most crucial thing seems to be relatively independent AI, but will people be able to relegate such responsibility to machines? Will they have a choice?

Treadgar


 
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Softwar       12/20/2006 4:42:20 PM
First the communications problem...
 
The best way to view this is to look at current IFF and communications technology in use for fighter jets.  The question of jamming is not simply one of power but of speed (time).  The computers that freq hop these days do so at millions of freqs per second.  The next generation will be in the giga and tera range.  The radios are nothing more than glorified modems, rnning as fast as the signals can be squeezed out.
 
In addition, encryption technoloy is not just limited to scrambling data but freq hopping over wide bandwidths.  Each signal packet can be spread out over a few billion frequencies.  Digitally, this would be viewed as sending each bit (8 bits per character) on a different frequency.  Stealth radars function in this fashion by spreading the outbound pulse over several million freqs then listening for the return pulse on the selected bands.  Without the code key (a long random number representing the specific frequencies) it is virtually impossible to detect. 
 
In communications terms, jamming some of the signal does little but slow down the process.  Each packet of data taken in is checked to be valid and if not - a resend packet is issued to the sender.  All this is occuring at computer speed levels (how fast is your chip?) so the difference in real time value is so small as to not matter.
 
Obviously, one can use a broadband jammer but this will only be effective within a certain radius.  This does not account for the fact that such jammers have short lives - putting out that much noise brings loads of attention.  The Iraqis tried the Russian GPS jammers and found that bombs set to home in on the jammers were a hazard to breathing in general.
 
Now for the EMP and radiation efftects...
 
Working in a high EMP or heavy rad environment is nothing new nor really all that expensive.  Pioneer and Voyager absorbed more rads than we could ever generate with simple nuclear weapons.  The radiation belts of Jupiter make an H-bomb look like a small firecracker.  These probes spent days and even weeks passing through the belts.  Keep in mind this is 1970s era technology terms.  Today's EMP and rad hardened chip technology is quite capable of working even during thermonuclear combat.
 
Finally, AI...
 
Any good computer engineer will tell you that true AI can never be possible.  When a computer can understand the meaning of "maybe" I will change my view but right now its either yes or no. 
 
There are real problems that have to be resolved before you unleash a robotic hunter/killer.  For example, the US Army spent about $100 million developing a neural network system that could recognize tanks.  They showed this network about 100,000 tank images from evey angle.  They had it up to 99.99% correct and decided to field test the system.  It failed to recognize a single tank.  The problem was the data they used was actually flawed.  The images with tanks were taken in sunlight and the images without tanks were taken on a cloudy day.  The result was a $100 million computer that could recognize the difference between a sunny and cloudy day.
 
The problem is basically solved these days by unleashing hunter systems (BAT) over areas where any target is viewed as a bad guy.  However, mix in some good guys and the old fratricide issue raises its ugly head.  IFF plays a role in this - thus the encryption comes into play - no code key = bad guy.  There are always problems - e.g. one Tornado and one Hornet lost to friendly fire from Patriot.
 
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Treadgar       12/21/2006 8:54:55 AM
That was an informative reply, just the kind of information I was looking for. You obviously know more about communications in the real world than I do. You did confirm some of my thoughts on the matter. 

There is one friendly problem. You wrote: "Any good computer engineer will tell you that true AI can never be possible." I'm inclined to disagree (even without a discussion about what "true AI" is). Arthur C. Clarke had something to say about that: if an old scientist says something can't be done today, he's right; if an old scientist says something can't be done in the future, he's wrong. Remember the early days of cell phones? There were experts who said cell phones were as small as they could get. Look how small they are now.  I can easily provide more examples. Nonetheless, you're right, when a computer can deal with "maybe" we're in for some interesting times.

Treadgar
 
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tomadog02       12/27/2006 1:57:09 PM
Treadgear,

You are thinking of the same book as I am.  If i recall that one was number 2 or 3 in the series.

Discounting true "AI" in sense that would be necessary for a unit to be an effective autonomous, I believe that you could still have a very effective roboticized weapons platform.  I imagine a unit capable of independant manuever (able to keep up with the infantry) and semi-independant action (ex. voice command: engage all units at GPS point blah-blah-blah).  A unit I think could be highly effective is an anti-mortar defense system.  Simple radar unit connected with maybe a larger base unit for overwatch and triangulation detects incoming mortar shells (which given their parabolic path should be relatively easy to intercept) and then rips off some shells to detonate or at least disrupt the shells flight path (a feat no human could likely accomplish).

 
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Softwar       12/27/2006 4:34:30 PM

Treadgear,

You are thinking of the same book as I am.  If i recall that one was number 2 or 3 in the series.

Discounting true "AI" in sense that would be necessary for a unit to be an effective autonomous, I believe that you could still have a very effective roboticized weapons platform.  I imagine a unit capable of independant manuever (able to keep up with the infantry) and semi-independant action (ex. voice command: engage all units at GPS point blah-blah-blah).  A unit I think could be highly effective is an anti-mortar defense system.  Simple radar unit connected with maybe a larger base unit for overwatch and triangulation detects incoming mortar shells (which given their parabolic path should be relatively easy to intercept) and then rips off some shells to detonate or at least disrupt the shells flight path (a feat no human could likely accomplish).


MK XX Bolo (Tremendous):

"Allright, Unit DNE of the line. Why did you do it? This is your Commander, Unit DNE. Report! Why did you do it? Now, you knew your position was hopeless, didn`t you? That you`d be destroyed if you held your ground, to say nothing of advancing. Surely you were able to compute that. You were lucky to have the chance to prove yourself."
For a minute I thought old Denny was too far gone to answer. There was just a kind of groan come out of the amplifier. Then it firmed up. General Bates had his cupped behind his ear, but Denny spoke right up.
"Yes, sir."
"You knew what was at stake here. It was the ultimate test of your ability to perform correctly under stress, of your suitability as a weapon of war. You knew that. You knew that General Margrave and old Priss Grace and the press boys all had their eyes on every move you made. So instead of using common sense, you waded into that inferno in defiance of all logic-and destroyed yourself. Right?"
"That is correct, sir."
"Then why? In the name of sanity, tell me WHY! Why, instead of backing out and saving yourself, did you charge? .....Wait a minute, Unit DNE. It just dawned on me. I`ve been underestimating you. You KNEW didn`t you? Your knowledge of human psychology told you they`d break and run, didn`t it?"
"No, sir. On the contrary, I was quite certain that they were as aware as I that they held every advantage."
"Then that leaves me back where I started. Why? What made you risk everything on a hopeless attack? Why did you do it?"
"For the honor of the regiment."

BOLO - by Keith Laumer
 
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