RDC: So what is all this I hear about robots in the Middle East?
LA: Well, during your interview with Bill Kristol today, you were discussing ISIS – and – as you know – western countries are loathe to commit ground troops to this fight. So what the countries are doing is offering logistical and air support in order to significantly lower the likelihood of casualties. After the decade long war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and after the thousands of troops were killed, there’s no appetite to commit more boots on the ground.
RDC: I agree – the U.S. along with our allies have a bad case of “war fatigue” . .
LA: The bad news is that these wars are likely to continue, but there is also some good news – there may be a technological solution to the “war fatigue” and that’s new advances in robotics. These new robots may be able to assist the native, local troops that are fighting ISIS on the ground without requiring foreign nations to put their own soldiers at risk.
RDC: So what kind of robots are we talking about, Luis?
LA: Well, for example, one of the biggest problems Iraqi troops and Kurdish Pershmerga fighters face is ISIS’s use of improvised explosive devices – or IEDs as they’re called -which are causing roughly 70% of the casualties. So just imagine what it would mean if we could reduce that number? That means more troops could fight ISIS.
RDC: I guess if you take away 70 percent of their effective firepower you are bound to deliver a major blow to ISIS. .
LA: That’s right! And that’s also why earlier this year Canada committed a number of remotely operated robots designed to seek out and neutralize IEDs. The robots operate in front the ground troops and so far they have proved very effective in combat situations. They neutralize the IEDs before they every have a chance to kill or maim a single soldier.
RDC: That sounds terrific Luis – but robots are still complicated to operate and also maintain, never mind that they are still pretty expensive – so whose in charge of the robots?
LA: The Canadian robots will be operated by the Pershmerga fighters, who have to undergo extensive training since they haven’t used anything with this level of sophistication before. But if they can figure how to use them, it could be a game-changer – not just during combat – but also afterwards when the robots can clear out hidden explosives before civilians are allowed to return home.
RDC: There are so many children and innocent civilians injured every year from IEDs and land mines the accidentally come upon – and to this point it has been really difficult to find them all and diffuse them – what a great application for robotics!
LA: I agree with you. And you’ll be happy to hear that the de-mining robots are actually the tip of the iceberg if the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA has anything to say about it. DARPA is investing millions of dollars in developing military robots to prepare our country for future wars. The ultimate goal is to create a fully functioning robotic soldier that will replace human troops in combat situations. Now, we’re still a long way from anything approaching The Terminator, but there are a number of companies that are working on robots to minimize human casualties on the battlefield.
One of my favorite companies is called Boston Dynamics, which, as you know, was recently acquired by Google. They have two different robots that are quickly becoming practical to use. The first one is called Atlas,. Atlas is a humanoid robot that stands on two legs and can walk across a wide area, but very slowly. It’s won’t be ready for warfare any time in the near future, but it does function autonomously and it is able to overcome most of the obstacles in its way.
RDC: And you mentioned a second robot?
LA: The other robot Boston Dynamics has created is really something. It’s called “Big Dog” because, well, it looks like a big dog – it walks on four legs and can run at a pretty fast clip. It’s around 3 feet long – weighs 250 pounds – and it can carry loads of up to 340 pounds. Think of it as kind of a pack mule that could be used by troops on the ground to transport heavy loads. It can also be used for forward reconnaissance – ranging ahead of a formation to gather advanced intelligence and relaying video and audio back to troops. If you Google, Boston Dynamics Big Dog, you’ll find a couple of Youtube videos that will really impress you!
RDC: So are these exclusively for military use?
LA: Good questions. Actually, Boston Dynamics envisions a number of civilian uses for their robots as well, which isn’t that unusual coming from a company funded by DARPA. As you know, Rebecca, DARPA is responsible for a lot of the technology that we now take for granted in our lives, including the Internet and cell phones, so I would expect a lot of the robotic technology being developed for military use will find its way to everyday civilian use soon enough!
RDC: Well, we are out of time for today but thanks for stopping by again Luis and bringing us good news about how robots, not humans, my be fighting all the wars in the future. .
LA: Let’s hope so! This is Luis Alvarez from the Alvarez Technology Group reminding you that when it comes to technology, forewarned, is forearmed!