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.
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.
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
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.
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.