Not exactly what Doug asked for, but along those lines here's something
Army Prepares 'Robo-Soldier' for Iraq
By MICHAEL P. REGAN, AP Business Writer
ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. - The rain is turning to snow
on a blustery January morning, and all the men
gathered in a parking lot here surely would prefer to
be inside. But the weather couldn't matter less to the
robotic sharpshooter they are here to watch as it
splashes through puddles, the barrel of its machine
gun pointing the way like Pinocchio's nose. The Army
is preparing to send 18 of these remote-controlled
robotic warriors to fight in Iraq (news - web sites)
beginning in March or April.
Made by a small Massachusetts company, the SWORDS,
short for Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance
Detection Systems, will be the first armed robotic
vehicles to see combat, years ahead of the larger
Future Combat System vehicles currently under
development by big defense contractors such as
Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics Corp.
It's easy to humanize the SWORDS (a tendency robotics
researchers say is only human) as it moves out of the
flashy lobby of an office building and into the cold
with nary a shiver.
Military officials like to compare the roughly
three-foot-high robots favorably to human soldiers:
They don't need to be trained, fed or clothed. They
can be boxed up and warehoused between wars. They
never complain. And there are no letters to write home
if they meet their demise in battle.
But officials are quick to point out that these are
not the autonomous killer robots of science fiction. A
SWORDS robot shoots only when its human operator
presses a button after identifying a target on video
shot by the robot's cameras.
"The only difference is that his weapon is not at his
shoulder, it's up to half a mile a way," said Bob
Quinn, general manager of Talon robots for
Foster-Miller Inc., the Waltham, Mass., company that
makes the SWORDS. As one Marine fresh out of boot camp
told Quinn upon seeing the robot: "This is my
Quinn said it was a "bootstrap development process" to
convert a Talon robot, which has been in military
service since 2000, from its main mission — defusing
roadside bombs in Iraq_ into the gunslinging SWORDS.
It was a joint development process between the Army
and Foster-Miller, a robotics firm bought in November
by QinetiQ Group PLC, which is a partnership between
the British Ministry of Defence and the Washington
holding company The Carlyle Group.
Army officials and employees of the robotics firm
heard from soldiers "who said 'My brothers are being
killed out here. We love the EOD (explosive ordnance
disposal), but let's put some weapons on it,'" said
Working with soldiers and engineers at Picatinny
Arsenal in New Jersey, it took just six months and
only about $2 million in development money to outfit a
Talon with weapons, according to Quinn and Anthony
Sebasto, a technology manager at Picatinny.
The Talon had already proven itself to be pretty
rugged. One was blown off the roof of a Humvee and
into a nearby river by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
Soldiers simply opened its shrapnel-pocked control
unit and drove the robot out of the river, according
The $200,000, armed version will carry standard-issue
Squad Automatic Weapons, either the M249, which fires
5.56-millimeter rounds at a rate of 750 per minute, or
the M240, which can fire about 700 to 1,000
7.62-millimeter rounds per minute. The SWORDS can fire
about 300 rounds using the M240 and about 350 rounds
using the M249 before needing to reload.
All its optics equipment — the four cameras, night
vision and zoom lenses — were already in the Army's
"It's important to stress that not everything has to
be super high tech," said Sebasto. "You can integrate
existing componentry and create a revolutionary
The SWORDS in the parking lot at the headquarters of
the cable news station CNBC had just finished showing
off for the cameras, climbing stairs, scooting between
cubicles, even broadcasting some of its video on the
Its developers say its tracks, like those on a tank,
can overcome rock piles and barbed wire, though it
needs a ride to travel faster than 4 mph.
Running on lithium ion batteries, it can operate for 1
to 4 hours at a time, depending on the mission.
Operators work the robot using a 30-pound control unit
which has two joysticks, a handful of buttons and a
video screen. Quinn says that may eventually be
replaced by a "Gameboy" type of controller hooked up
to virtual reality goggles.
The Army has been testing it over the past year at
Picatinny and the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland
to ensure it won't malfunction and can stand up to
radio jammers and other countermeasures. (Sebasto
wouldn't comment on what happens if the robot and its
controller fall into enemy hands.)
Its developers say the SWORDS not only allows its
operators to fire at enemies without exposing
themselves to return fire, but also can make them more
A typical soldier who could hit a target the size of a
basketball from 300 meters away could hit a target the
size of a nickel with the SWORDS, according Quinn.
The better accuracy stems largely from the fact that
its gun is mounted on a stable platform and fired
electronically, rather than by a soldier's hands,
according to Staff Sgt. Santiago Tordillos of the EOD
Technology Directorate at Picatinny. Gone are such
issues as trigger recoil, anticipation problems, and
pausing the breathing cycle while aiming a weapon.
"It eliminates the majority of shooting errors you
would have," said Tordillos.
Chances are good the SWORDS will get even more deadly
in the future. It has been tested with the larger .50
caliber machine guns as well as rocket and grenade
launchers — even an experimental weapon made by the
Australian company Metal Storm LLC that packs multiple
rocket rounds into a single barrel, allowing for much
more rapid firing.
"We've fired 70 shots at Picatinny and we were 70 for
70 hitting the bull's-eye," said Sebasto, boasting of
the arsenal's success with a Vietnam-era rocket
launcher mounted on a SWORDS.
There are bound to be many eyes watching SWORDS as it
heads to battle. Its tracks will one day be followed
by the larger vehicles of the Future Combat System,
such as six-wheel-drive MULE under development by
Lockheed Martin, a 2.5-ton vehicle with motors in each
wheel hub to make it more likely to survive.
The Pentagon (news - web sites)'s research arm, the
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, also
recently awarded contracts to aid research of robots
that one day could be dropped into combat from
airplanes and others meant to scale walls using
electrostatic energy — also known as "static cling."
Many of the vehicles being developed for the FCS will
have some autonomy, meaning they'll navigate rough
terrain, avoid obstacles and make decisions about
certain tasks on their own.
They may be able to offer cues to their operators when
potential foes are near, but it's doubtful any of them
will ever be allowed to make the decision to pull the
trigger, according to Jim Lowrie, president of
Perceptek Inc., a Littleton, Colo., firm that is
developing robotics systems for the military.
"For the foreseeable future, there always will be a
person in the loop who makes the decision on friend or
foe. That's a hard problem to determine autonomously,"
From: Doug Brugge [log in to unmask]
Date: Sat, 22 Jan 2005 18:51:09 EST
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: looking for corroboration
I saw another rumor of chemical weapon use in Fallujah in a internet diary
an American living in Iraq. One thought that comes to mind is that they are
removing depleted uranium after doing field surveys for low-level radiation.
Perhaps they are afraid that the US will be blamed for subsequent cancers
birth defects. Although if that is what they are doing, I'm a little
surprised that they care!
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