Infantry: September 18, 2002


US soldiers have used a robot in combat for the first time while hunting for al Qaeda leaders near Narizah, Afghanistan. Fester is a 40-pound robot tank fitted with cameras. It is able to move at nine mph, climb stairs, and survive heavy shocks. Its main purpose is to look around corners and into buildings to see if an ambush is awaiting the paratroops of the 101st Airborne Division set to enter the building. Tests have not gone perfectly (which is why they are called "tests"); Fester has run into things when his controllers misjudged his path and his communications can become unreliable if surrounded by a lot of metal. But engineers are studying the results of the tests, and in future, infantry and engineer platoons may carry a robot like Fester on their missions. Fester was originally designed to look inside wrecked buildings for survivors, and was used for that at the World Trade Center. Robots similar to Fester have been used by various police departments to get a glimpse of hostage situations. While Fester costs $40,000, he can take hits that soldiers cannot survive, and if hit by something big enough to kill the robot, that also saved the lives of soldiers. Future versions of Fester will carry better sensors, better communications, and a 12-guage shotgun.--Stephen V Cole


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