Robotics and Autonomous Systems: Efficiency in Defense

People, mostly GenZers, grew up with the presence of dystopian movies and tv shows on the television screens. The idea of an imagined society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives where often the reason behind it was technology. The premise of “the world is ending because robots gained a full conscience and are dominating the world” or “the government is using technology to implant trackers and control the people”.

That creates a sense that technology is dangerous and should be stopped and up to a certain point this is highly understandable, but innovation in the right hands can do a lot of good, especially when defending a country or just a small house.


The rise of robots in defense is a cause for celebration for those in the industry, as well as for ethical concerns in others. Advanced robotics projects have been making the headlines, some of them have been able to even act and perform tasks like human beings.


Robot manufacturers claim that such robots will never be armed, and will be used only to support and augment human activities rather than as automated aggressors, although this is a fine line that may easily be breached.



Why use robots in the defense industry?


Military weapons and equipment benefit a great deal from advances in technology. These advances have allowed combatants to engage targets more accurately and from further away, which has meant increased safety for military forces and civilians and an improved capability to accomplish tasks.


What does this mean? Military systems are gaining an increased capability to perform assigned tasks autonomously, and this capability will only improve over time. Autonomy in military systems allows human operators to remain out of harm’s way and to complete tasks that manned systems cannot.


It’s important to clarify that when we think about the word “robot” we don’t mean only the big destructive robots like the ones we see on Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). We’re also talking about the minor less destructive ones that can help with surveillance and logistic operations. Those, in fact, are the real deal and the less dangerous when considering a potential loss of lives.



Why not use robots in the defense industry?

“With great power comes great responsibility”, you might have heard of this phrase already. In 2022, we live with the presence of nuclear bombs that threaten the entire existence of the human and animal race. This is already worrying enough since society is at war at all times.


Even more because today we are a highly globalized world, where what happens in Asia will affect what happens in any other continent and vice versa. With the entry of automated robots, this resource management could be difficult, as if the technology falls into the wrong hands it can cause disproportionate damage to the entire planet.


The real question is: how long would it take for the military to act like civilian lives are just collateral damage and destroy numerous cities with robots, just like what happens in every Marvel movie? In fact, life is not a movie. However, it’s to be expected to hear the same monologue that a certain situation was necessary to save the country, leading to more eventful deaths.



How are robots used in the defense industry?

Some types of robots used in the defense industry include surveillance, logistics and ground support, bomb defuses, naval capabilities, and troop cover.


Surveillance

The primary function of Spot, the robot dog being tested by the French military, is to reconnoiter, either alone or in company with humans. The yellow quadruped is equipped with cameras and WiFi connectivity, and it runs on rechargeable batteries. It can perform autonomous missions or be remotely controlled, and having four legs means it’s able to navigate terrain that would be much more challenging for devices with treads or wheels.


As well as its defense potential, Spot has been used as a survey mechanism to access several hazardous environments, including factories and construction sites as well as underground mines. The main issue found with Spot by the French military test teams was that the batteries tended to run out very quickly and it was slow compared to human beings. Both things can be solved with more study.


Logistics & Ground Support

One of the greatest logistical problems of an army in the field is its ground support infrastructure; the organizing of supply and distribution of food, water, clothing, medical supplies, and munitions. Using a UGV or AEV, these can be conveyed to front-line troops without any personnel having to risk navigating a combat zone. UGVs can travel over difficult terrain, use pre-programmed routes, and be monitored at all times by a central controller.


Bomb Defuse

Radio-controlled robots are familiar to us from TV and films and are often regarded with some amusement. However, the role of autonomous devices in detecting and defusing bombs cannot be over-emphasized. Their field capabilities have been greatly improved, and WiFi connectivity gives them a greater performance range. In addition, some companies have developed sensors and devices that can be added to existing ground vehicles to convert them to unmanned operations, reducing the costs of IED detection.


Naval Capabilities

The aforesaid Sea Hunter autonomous surface vessel is used to track enemy submarines, and can potentially cover thousands of miles of open sea for months on end, without requiring the presence of a single crew member. The Royal Navy has also been working with unmanned surface vessels (UMS), including the Madfox experimentation vessel and an RIB.

These vessels can be used for hazardous expeditions such as detection and deactivating mines, tracking enemy vessels, and anti-submarine warfare.


Troop Cover

Another autonomous device being tried out by the French military was the Barakuda UGV, an all-terrain wheeled vehicle that looks like a cross between a tank and an armored car. It’s capable of various operational modes, including reconnaissance, with a 320º video turret; and medevac operations, with a stretcher facility and disinfection kit. This UGV’s important feature is a ballistic shield, to offer protection for troops following in its wake.


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