In this age of roadside bombs in Afghanistan and mines in the Persian Gulf’s shipping lanes, the Department of Defense has turned to industry to better protect troops, and robots have played a significant role.
One innovative robotics system deployed to combat improvised explosive devices (IEDs) is the K-MAX unmanned cargo resupply helicopter developed by Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace. Deployed in 2011, K-MAX has removed well over 600 convoy vehicles from the dangerous Afghani roads.
Robotic aerial systems feature optical, infrared and other sensors that deliver persistent surveillance day or night and provide an invaluable reconnaissance capability that keeps troops out of danger.
Unmanned ground vehicles and maritime systems are also making inroads. Ground systems lighten soldiers’ loads, improve combat readiness and perform critical resupply and casualty evacuation missions. At sea, underwater robots like Lockheed Martin’s Remote Minehunting system will soon replace the ships that sail into hazardous waters to clear mines for the U.S. Navy.
Advancements in robotics offer benefits at home, too. Unmanned systems can perform diverse missions for police, fire and border patrol. They also monitor crops for pest infestation and disease and help deliver fertilizer and water.
“We’re trying to build robots that go where it is too hard for people to go and do what is too hard for people to do,” said Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Manager Gill Pratt. DARPA’s Robotics Challenge hopes to develop robots capable of assisting disaster response operations, especially in hazardous areas.