The US Army’s vaunted robot dogs might not arrive for a decade or more

WASHINGTON — They’ve walked the halls at defense conferences, but a robotic version of man’s best friend might not be coming to the military anytime soon.

Two US-based robotics companies, Boston Dynamics and Ghost Robotics, produce quadruped unmanned ground vehicles, or robot dogs. At last year’s Association of the United States Army annual conference, Ghost Robotics unveiled an armed version of the ‘dog’, equipped with a 6.5mm Creedmoor assault rifle, as part of of a partnership with Sword International.

The technology, which typically costs between $50,000 and $150,000 depending on the company and model, requires further development before it can make it to the battlefield, according to Army robotics program officials.

“These legged platforms have some promise that we’ve identified, primarily from a mobility standpoint,” Milot Resyli, head of the disassembled robotic systems branch at the Army’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center, told C4ISRNET. . “There are also limits for them of an endurance [perspective]as well as the payload capacity and power of what they can handle. »

The development of a robot dog took almost two decades. In 2004, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched Project BigDog in hopes that the robot could serve as a pack mule and accompany soldiers through terrain too rough for conventional vehicles.

The Air Force and Department of Homeland Security have explored using the platforms for patrols. This summer, Space Force conducted a demonstration at Space Force Station Cape Canaveral, Florida, to illustrate how ground-based robots can automate manual, repetitive tasks, such as patrols.

The army has yet to field one, according to the service’s chief roboticist, Robert Sadowski. However, he told C4ISRNET, the military has pilot programs underway as well as its “10x project,” which is testing technology to upgrade future infantry forces.

Project 10x roboticists experimented with the platforms to assess how they could be used and pushed to perform more missions than the current level of technology allows, Resyli said.

But he also said the technology could evolve in its ability to operate in all weather conditions and in shallow water.

Unlike larger, expensive robotic rigs, the military doesn’t plan to keep its smaller robots around for more than a decade. Instead, current recording programs for small systems will undergo a technology update after 10 years.

According to Resyli, the next opportunity for legged rigs to compete for these programs is at the refresh point, which is within the next five to 10 years. He added, however, that there were talks at the moment about the next iteration of these smaller platforms.

Unlike wheeled or tracked robots, which can fall over rough terrain, legged robots can climb stairs and operate on uneven surfaces. Quadruped platforms can also carry payloads, such as cameras and sensors, allowing them to act as early warning systems and put the warfighter and threats at bay.

“There are many other missions, especially underground missions where current tracked and wheeled rigs are severely limited because you have potentially small and large elevation changes – whether it’s stairs or steep slopes – that the current platform cannot handle,” said Resyli.

Sadowski suggested the rigs could replace surveillance missions that would otherwise use a quadcopter, a type of flying drone that uses four rotors or propellers to fly.

Although quadcopters are used for a wide range of military and tactical surveillance missions, the technology struggles to support longer missions and heavier payloads due to the high weight of the sensors and a capability of limited power — areas where quadruped rigs provide better capabilities, Sadowski said.

Catherine Buchaniec is a journalist at C4ISRNET, where she covers artificial intelligence, cyber warfare and unmanned technologies.

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