Robots are part of the future of war. They're not the present, yet, and robots replacing all humans on a battlefield is still a long way away in the futue — it if happens at all.
But that doesn't mean robots aren't coming. The current phrase-of-choice at the Pentagon is “manned/unmanned teaming”, where human piloted and autonomous vehicles work together to perform a task or take an objective.
Someday, it's entirely possible that we will simply have unmanned/unmanned teaming, where robot helicopters carry ground robots into battle. And by “someday,” I mean “last October," when the following test was performed in West Palm Beach, Florida.
After the unmanned helicopter lowers the robot onto the ground, the ground robot rolled out to explore the surrounding woods.
The research was conducted by Carnegie Mellon in collaboration with Lockheed Martin-owned helicopter giant Sikorsky, at Sikorsky's Development Flight Center. So that's a robotic Black Hawk helicopter dropping off Carnegie Mellon's Land Tamer amphibious ground scout vehicle.
This project has been in the works since at least the summer of 2014. The video was uploaded earlier this month and the announcement emailed out today, with the demonstrations taking place on October 27th.
The project, it should be clear, was sponsored by the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, with a helicopter provided by the Army's aviation and missile research wing. To make it work, Sikorsky outfitted the Blackhawk with their autonomous kit, which can be added to existing vehicles.
Here's how Carnegie Mellon described the test:
During the demonstration mission, the unmanned BLACK HAWK helicopter picked up the UGV, flew a 12-mile route, delivered it to a ground location and released it. The drop-zone collaboration between the two autonomous systems demonstrated a uniquely differentiating capability. Over the course of more than six miles, the UGV autonomously navigated the environment, while using its onboard chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) sensors to detect simulated hazards and delivered this information back to a remote ground station. The UGV was optionally teleoperated to explore hazard sites in greater detail, when necessary.
Like most robots operating on the edge of conflicts and dangerous situations, the ideal use of this team isn't to replace human pilots and troops in battle. Instead, the robotic scouts can go places humans shouldn't, like environments where commanders suspect radiation risk or loose chemical weapons, to identify the danger and then see if it's safe for humans to go. In this role, robots themselves become the future scouts of nightmares, their unfeeling mechanical bodies clearing a path for the war to follow.
Watch video of the demonstration below: