Murphy's Law: May 20, 2005


Troops in combat zones are eager to get their hands on robotic vehicles, but the supply is limited. Fewer than a thousand UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles) have been sent to Iraq so far. So the troops have been improvising. Radio controlled (RC) cars and aircraft are readily available from hobby stores, or their web sites. Items can be sent via air freight to Iraq. The high end RC trucks cost several hundred dollars, but can be controlled from as far away as 200 meters. These are often carried by troops on convoy duty, for checking out items on, or alongside, the road that might be bombs. Just shooting at these objects doesnt always set them off. But run an RC car up to it, and ram the object, and you quickly know if it is heavy (and possibly a bomb), or light (and likely just some garbage.) These vehicles can also be equipped with wireless video cameras, perfect for checking out whats around the corner. RC aircraft, especially the high end ones that cost $500 or more, can also, with some effort, be equipped with a wireless vidcam. However, using off-the-shelf equipment, your transmission range is only a few hundred meters. Most RC aircraft can be controlled up to 500 meters away, and with more expensive commo gear, nearly twice that. But troops have gotten their own improvised UAVs into the air (and sometimes shot at as well.) The army calls these efforts field expedients, and they are one reason why the army (and the other services as well) are scrambling to get official versions of this gear into the hands of the troops. The government issue stuff is often little different than what the hobbyist troops are coming up with. The military versions are more expensive because they have to be built so that any soldier can quickly figure out how to use them. That takes a lot of effort, and runs the costs up. But for units that have some RC hobbyists in the ranks, you can make your own, crude but effective, recon UAVs for under a thousand dollars. The official versions cost $20,000 or more.


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