Procurement: Combat Droids Mature


April 12, 2007: The U.S. Army has purchased another 151 Talon UGV (unmanned ground vehicles), for $173,000 each. The U.S. military has bought a thousand Talons since 2000, and another 200 are on order. The Talon was first used in the Balkans, in 2000, to help deal with left over munitions (that might explode unexpectedly.) In Iraq and Afghanistan, Talons have been used in over 50,000 EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) missions, usually roadside bombs.

There are several other UGV models, and over 6,000 have been shipped to the combat zone in the last six years. The Talon is generally considered the top-of-the-line model. Basic weight is about 85 pounds, and it can carry up to 200 pounds of gear or cargo. Typical equipment load is about 30 pounds, and usually includes a double jointed arm that can grasp objects. Talon usually carries four cameras, and when using a wireless data link, can be up to 1,600 meters from the operator.

With all this combat experience, there are now a large selection of proven accessories for Talon. These include night cameras, microphones, loudspeakers and even a sniffer, that can detect explosives via analysis of chemical particles in the air. There is an armed version, but the military is reluctant to put this one into service.

Talon is the fastest of its class, able to move at up to 6.5 kilometers an hour (nearly two meters a second, a brisk walking pace). It can travel underwater, up and down stairs, and across most types of nasty terrain (muck, snow and the like). In normal operation, its batteries last about eight hours.

There is a lightweight, scout version, that weighs only 60 pounds, but has day/night vidcams, and the ability to just sit in one place and watch for over 24 hours on a single battery charge. Talon has proved that devices like this are useful on the battlefield, and their heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan have paved the way for many more combat robots to follow, including some that operate on their own.


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