Infantry: July 21, 2004

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The U.S. Marine Corps is sending a third generation combat robot to Iraq. Over a dozen different combat robot designs have been used in Afghanistan and Iraq so far. Most were originally designed for police or disaster rescue work, although the potential for military sales were always there. Since September 11, 2001, where some of these small robots were used to search the World Trade Center wreckage for survivors, the robots have gotten a lot of combat use overseas. The droids are particularly popular for checking out possible roadside bombs, where a few have been lost in action. In Afghanistan, the robots were useful for checking out caves that might contain armed hostiles. 

The new marine robot, the nine pound Dragon Runner, incorporates the lessons of robot use in the last few years. Built to survive rough handling (like getting tossed out a third story window, or the back of a speeding- at 72 kilometers an hour- truck), 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), which is useful when trying to evade enemy fire. Dragon Runner is not bullet proof. But 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 can be ordered 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), but 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. 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. 

The twelve prototypes, some of which are being sent to Iraq, cost $46,000 each. But if produced in larger numbers, the cost would come down to about $30,000. 

 


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