November 19, 2004
Several months of combat testing for a new U.S. Marine Corps robot, the 9-13 pound Dragon Runner, have apparently been successful. Built to survive rough handling (like getting tossed out a third story window, or the back of a truck moving at 72 kilometers an hour), the 15 inch long, foot wide and five inch high vehicle runs on four tires. It does this right side up, or upside down. The remotely controlled robot carries day and night cameras, as well as microphones and motion detectors. Normally, it creeps along at walking, or creeping, speed. But it can sprint at up to 32 kilometers an hour (about eight meters a second.) This is useful when trying to evade, or avoid, enemy fire. Dragon Runner is not bullet proof, and avoids enemy fire by staying out of the war. The robot can be ordered to just sit in one place and observe. Its motion sensors can pick up people moving from up to ten meters away. Dragon Runner will to alert the operator if anything is detected. The robot is operated via a hand held controller that operates like a hand held game console (Game Boy, Etc.) The controller has a vibration mode for getting alerts from a Dragon Runner on sentry duty. This is because this sort of thing will probably happen at night, when being quiet can be a matter of life and death.
Battery life depends on what the droid is doing. On sentry duty, it can go for up to 24 hours before needing a new battery or recharge. If running around a lot, the battery lasts about four hours. The full name of the droid is Dragon Runner MGS (Mobile Ground Sensor), and it can be equipped with weapons, like explosives or something like a tear gas grenade, to deal with hostile troops inside a cave or bunker, or, more likely, to detonate a road side bomb. For that task, the robot would dump the explosive, which has a radio controlled detonator attached, and then back off. The wireless communications system used to control the robot has a range of up to several hundred meters, depending on how built up the area is. Its expected that marines will most often used the robot within a hundred meters of where they are.
Dragon Runner is being used in Fallujah, where it is very useful going into areas that might be covered by enemy snipers, or booby traps. So far, two of the droids were damaged in combat, but have been repaired and returned to duty.
The twelve prototypes, nine of which were sent to Iraq, cost $60,000 each (including the control unit). But if produced in larger numbers, the cost would come down to about $30,000.