Infantry: Super Droid Takes A Test

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May 2,2008: The U.S. Army has begun testing its next generation infantry droid, the SUGV (Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle). This is a 30 pound robot, similar to the slightly larger Packbot. Both of these were designed and produced by iRobot. SUGV can carry 6.5 pounds of gear, and seven different "mission packages" are available. These include various types of sensors and double jointed arms (for grabbing things.) SUGV is waterproof and shock resistant. It fits into the standard army backpack, and is meant to operate in a harsh environment. The battery powered SUGV is operated wirelessly, or via a fiber optic cable, using a controller that looks like a video game controller with a video screen built in. Like the current PackBot, SUGV can climb stairs, maneuver over rubble and other nasty terrain.

The SUGV design is based largely on feedback from combat troops. For example, it is rugged enough to be quickly thrown into a room, or cave, activated and begin sending video, as well as audio, of what is in there, This feature makes it very popular with the troops. No one likes being the first one going into dark, potentially dangerous, places. Throwing a grenade in first doesn't always work, because sometimes frightened civilians are in there.

SUGV can also perform outpost and listening post work. These are two dangerous jobs the infantry are glad to hand off to a robot. Outposts are, as the name implies, one or two troops dug in a hundred meters or so from the main position, to give early warning of an enemy attack. A listening post is similar, but the friendly troops are often much deeper into enemy territory. The SUGV battery enables it to just sit in one place, listening and watching, for eight hour or more. After that, you send out another SUGV with a fresh battery, and have the other one come back for a recharge. No risk of troops getting shot at while doing the same things, and the troops really appreciate that. Other dangerous jobs for the SUGV are placing explosives by a door (to blow it open for the troops), or placing a smoke grenade where it will prevent the enemy from seeing the troops move.

In the last four years, users of current PackBot UGVs have filled military message boards with interesting uses they have found for these robots, and new features they could make use of. SUGV is the product of all that chatter, and the troops want it ASAP. But only 25 are being delivered by the end of May.

Before September 11, 2001, the army didn't expect to have robots like PackBot or SUGV until 2013. But the technology was there, and the war created a major demand. The robots expected in 2013 were to be part of a new generation of gear called FCS (Future Combat Systems). SUGV is still waiting for some of the high tech FCS communications and sensor equipment, and is using off the shelf stuff in the meantime. The troops don't care, as long as it works.

 


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