I, for one, would like to welcome our new machine overlords

Armed Combat Robots Headed for Iraq (1/12/05 entry)

I’ve written before about the Talon combat robot. A heavier Mk 2 version has been developed from the original utility version, which has served in Iraq since 2003.

The biggest difference? This one shoots.

They’re sending a couple to Iraq this spring some time. See the Strategy Page post for a lot more good stuff.

UPDATE: Actually, that Strategy Page post title is a little unclear.

Armed Combat Robots Headed for Iraq

So are we deploying the Talon 2s to Iraq, or did they just decide to go on their own?

I’m assuming that it’s the former. But don’t people always say things like

  • There’s no such thing as vampires!“,
  • What do you mean ‘they cut the power’? How could they cut the power, man? They’re animals!“, and
  • But it can’t think. It’s just a machine!

moments before things go really south?


  1. WHen it comes to remote controlled armed robots (fancy waldos really) I ahve zero expectation of them taking over the world. Find us some real independent minded battle droids…then I will wizz me pants.

  2. Sam: What if they’re counting on us thinking they’re just waldos? I’ve always been more than a little opposed to genetically-modified super-soldiers, but maybe we’ll need them to fight the machines. Okay. I’ve been watching too many movies. For now…

  3. I’d like to think that I have been paying enough attention to this to know that these droids aren’t that good just yet. wisecrack time: maybe tinfoil hats are actually the activating property of the mind-control satellite systems. [/mysterious] serious time: we are several generations away from droids which can truly act independently in a fluid, unpredictable, and unsupported combat environment. I’d be more worried about developments in implantable devices in people.

  4. Sam: Yeah, I’m obviously wisecracking a bit, too. I’m all for the robots. If it can help in Iraq and help save a few lives, let’s give it a shot.

  5. Honda recently announced its new ASIMOV robot which can run at a jogging pace across a flat floor. That’s state of the art in terms of an android, which is not very far. It will be years if not decades before one can run through an irregular battlefield, dodging or stepping over junk in the way. Until then, real human soldiers will be sneaking around these things and blowing them up, at long range using a 25mm payload if necessary. We’re a LONG WAY from the agile autonomous androids we see in the movies. They’re ability to sort out targets and shoot at them also needs LOTS of work. Now, small, armed tracked/wheeled robots remotely controlled by soldiers could be very useful in urban combat situations. Sometime back I also reported on a DARPA challenge in which (as I recall) college teams tried to use unmanned planes to fly to a building in an urban setting, then launch a smaller flying device to get close to the target in the building (so it could detonate an explosive to neutralize the target in a real-world situation). None of the teams got all that close. But, these contests promote development. Some years ago, I saw videos of a spiderlike robot which could ride in the back of a pickup in squatted up size, then spread out and climb out of the pickup on command. That might be a better design for a battlefield robot.

  6. I was going to write about this anyway, and then I saw your comment ACE. I have to brag that I know an individual on one of the teams that was at last summers DARPA contest for this very vehicle. The contest is held in four stages. First stage, the vehicle must fly to three different Nav Points, and then back to the starting point. The second stage is to fly to an area and do a patrol of the area. The third stage is to go to an area, and find a certain building. The fourth stage is to find the building, then launch a smaller robotic vehicle that can enter the building, and find a specific object. Now mind you, no team has successfully completed all of the stages. As a matter of fact, only two teams have completed the first stage. One has been going to the competition for around ten years. They were the ‘big cheese’, an Ivy league, or upper crust school that had been doing this for ten years. Then along comes the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Last year was their first year at the competition, and they completed the first stage. (Yes I’m Bragging) None of the others could manage anything even close. The other school that had finished the first stage took ten years to do it. Mind you now, none of these are remotely controlled, they are completely robotic. I had heard that the competition was cancelled, project over. What a shame.

  7. I found out this weekend that the project I was speaking of had not been cancelled yet. The team in our area had heard that they might not have it this year, but no formal cancellation had been made yet.

  8. Actually, it doesn’t take any more autonomous intelligence for a useful war robot than today’s robot vacuum cleaners have. They only need to be a little more tactically flexible than a simple antipersonnel mine. Here’s a simple approach, based on the old British military algorithm ‘if it moves salute it, if it stands still paint it white.’ Set the robots to roam around in a defined area, like the robot vacuum cleaners, with the help of GPS and mutual avoidance (since there will be more than one unit – Reynolds rules apply here). Anything still gets jabbed. Anything moving fast gets shot. Ammonia and CO2 are used for smell to head towards noise/movement sources (the only mammals that excrete ammonia are certain apes – including people). And, of course, any resistance triggers the antipersonnel mine behaviour (I imagine they could be modified to seek out armour and trigger a shaped charge, too). No doubt, since mines are disapproved of, this will get called a mine clearing device in an Orwellian way. The Talon system can be further improved by two things: stronger and better sealed joints, using the constant volume joint system of hard space suits inside a lint-free coverall; and, a second reversed arm underneath (with both arms mounted on their respective sloped glacis surfaces), which with larger claws allows either side to be up and also allows a rolling gait on the arms on really rough ground. I suppose that self triggering sights would be useful too, but that doesn’t come under the heading of autonomous behaviour (and weren’t fully developed in their own right last time I was involved many years ago, and would need their own further integration). Remember, this autonomous behaviour would serve to polarise an individual engagement, presenting the enemy with a tactical dilemma; it wouldn’t win, just force the enemy into a situation to be taken advantage of by other arms.