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TECHNOLOGY

AARMS
Vol. 9, No. 1 (2010) 125137

Military robots of the present and the future


GERALD MIES
FANUC Robotics Deutschland GmBH, 73765 Neuhausen a.d. F., Germany

The military is unquestionably the first user of new technologies and developments, in
technique, and is also, very often, the booster for new developments, when it becomes
necessary to invent new technologies for military systems. Many basic technologies,
which were used in the military for the first time, have become part of the industrial
robot today. However, the definition of military robotics and industrial robotics is still
very different. The military has specific, robotized equipment, whereas, in industrial
terms, the robot is more of an intelligent, flexible, mass production machine. In the
future, the use of industrial robots for military applications will become ever more
possible. Price and development of the technical abilities of the modern robot will
increase the interest of military users. In the following article, the author will indicate
that the motivation for the use of robots, within the military and within industry, is the
replacement of humans. The reasons for this replacement are, as follows: quality, cost
and humanization; however, using a different approach in each field, of course.
I. Introduction and literature overview
Both industrial and military robots share a common history, which began centuries ago.
The use of automatic devices was first recognized at the end of the 19 th Century. There
are hardly any books detailing the history of military robots in particular, but the topic is
mentioned in standard books on robotics, such as the work of ANGELO1 or SICILIANO
and KATHIB,2 for instance. In WILLIAMSON,4 too, gives a historical overview on
technology in this case the early years of spacecraft technology. VNYA does the
same in Reference 10 dealing with the history of unmanned ground vehicles.
A more detailed view on military robotic devices is given by Singer,3 in, Wired for
War. His book deals with the history, as well as with the various applications within
the military context and with the question of how warfare has been and will be
influenced by the use of robots. Similarly, LELE6 makes suggestions on how technology
can be used in military contexts. Further outlooks on such robotic usages are given by
YOUNG,12 LUNDBERG,14 EDWARDS,15 WEISBIN,16 and BUXBAUM.18 Each of them
considers robots as essential supporting devices of the future. CHENs work in

Received: May 31, 2010


Address for correspondence:
GERALD MIES
E-mail: miesg@fanucrobotics.de

G. MIES: Military robots

Reference 13 and GIACHETTIs in Reference 19 represent a closer look on what robots


will be able to do.
Still, there are works that deal with the conflict between machines on the one hand
and moral aspects on the other. In Reference 5 WALLACH explains the importance of
teaching robots right from wrong. KOVCS11 and COOPER17 understand this as one of
the major challenges, as well.
Literature can only conclude from recent projects what the future of military robots
will look like. It is quite clear that the military has their own understanding of robots,
since they do not discuss humanoids, but, instead, devices that support military actions
by performing certain tasks automatically. Singer explores momentary research and
gives his conclusions on what military robots will be like in the future.
SZABOLCSI7 gave methodology of the derivation of the critical parameters of the
human operators manipulating spatial motion of UAVs and in Reference 8 a complex
stochastic mathematical model of the disturbances affecting aircraft motion is derived
and proposed for further applications. SZABOLCSI and MIES9 give a short brief upon
history and future of modern robotics.
II. First military equipment with robot related abilities
During the 19th and 20 th Centuries, the evolution of robots has proven to be useful in
many fields of life. It was only a question of time until the military would use robotic
applications for their own purposes. Advances in computer programming enabled
engineers to build constructions that could fulfill things, which were not previously
possible.
In his chapter on the history of robots, Singer notes that, Thomas A. Edison and
Nikola Tesla were the first to think about military applications. Both men worked on the
transmission of electricity and experimented with radio-control devices. Tesla was the
one who presented his idea of remote-controlled torpedoes to the U.S. military, but he
was rejected.3
During World War I, the development of robotic devices continued. An electric
dog, more or less a converted tricycle, was built to carry supplies. The vehicle was able
to follow a light source, which can be seen as a precursor to laser control.

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Fig. 1. (www.davidszondy.com)

Fig. 2. (commons.wikimedia.org)

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In 1917, a land torpedo was patented. The vehicle was supposed to carry one
thousand pounds of explosives behind enemy lines. Caterpillar Tractors built a
prototype just before the war ended. The first prototypes of missiles, equipped with
preset gyroscopes and barometers, were also built around this time. The so-called
Kettering bugs could fly a distance of fifty miles before destroying their target.
However, these devices did not have any major effect to the fighting.
Germany was the first nation to use remote controlled weapons on a wider scale. On
sea, they defended their lines with unmanned boats, carrying explosives. The system
included Teslas radio control, as an operator steered the ships, via sea planes, which
delivered electricity through a cable to the boat. In World War II, Germany again
pioneered in the use of robotic devices; their land torpedo, Goliath, is one of the best
known. Its size was comparable to a go-kart and was controlled by remote into enemy
tanks and bunkers, carrying 132 pounds of explosives.

Fig. 3. Goliath, World War II (www.museumofworldwarii.com)

One of the major and most effective German inventions was the V-2 rocket, a
ballistic missile used during World War II. The rocket was not only the first aircraft to
reach space, but the flight was automatically controlled by the LEV-3 guidance system.
A horizontal and a vertical gyroscope, connected to the steering vanes, were responsible
for lateral stabilization and a gyroscopic accelerometer cut off the engine, with the help
of an electrolytic integrator. The human operators only had to adjust the azimuth for the
rocket and set up the timing for the engine cut-off. Thus, the V2 was able to fly on a
certain ballistic curve that reached the target.4

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Fig. 4. V2 missile (commons.wikimedia.org)

The V-2 rocket and its successors, the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM),
completely changed the nature of modern strategic warfare. From now on, missiles had
to be programmed and shot and reached the target automatically without further human
interaction. When those powerful missiles were equipped with nuclear weapons, both
the United States and the Soviet Union were primarily interested in avoiding strategic
nuclear warfare.
All of these military devices might have been first attempts that were not terribly
effective, but they have certainly been innovations that served as a basis for further
developments. Today, missiles of various kinds, for example torpedoes and teleoperated devices, belong to the military, as the soldiers do.

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III. Military robots according to the definition of robotics


Military robots are related to very different applications and differ to those robots that
are used for industrial production, in a way that they do not produce things, but have to
interact in warfare. The concept, however, is the same; a device has to fulfill some tasks
automatically to qualify as a robot. In military terms, technology focuses on the control
of missiles and vehicles in order to have unmanned devices that are either tele-operated
or that find their way, automatically guided by laser beams or GPS satellites. Today,
military robots can be divided into several categories: guided missiles; military
spacecraft; unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV); unmanned ground vehicles (UGV);
remotely operated vehicles (ROV); and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV).1
The intercontinental ballistic missiles, mentioned earlier, are only one very large
type of rocket with guidance systems. In fact, various combat situations require
different types, depending on where the missiles are launched, for what kind of aims
they are determined and on how they fly in a ballistic curve or self-propelled. Combat
pilots, for example, fire self-propelled air-to-air missiles at their opponents fighter jets,
but air-to-surface missiles at hostile targets on the ground. Surface-to-surface missiles
can either be self-propelled or ballistic, like the mentioned intercontinental missiles.1
During the first Gulf War, such missiles were described as smart bombs. Singer
explains that two systems were used; laser-guided missiles and so-called cruise missiles,
which find their way by comparing the terrain with digital photographs of it. From this
point on, soldiers were able to control such missiles from a safe distance by
programming them before the take-off. Due to exact surveillance and precise lasermarks, the precision of the missiles was remarkably good.3
In space, the military is present with satellites, which are basically robotic spacecrafts
that orbit around the earth. First installed during the 1960s, the satellites have become
crucial instruments for modern warfare and, even for the preservation of a stable,
globalized civilization. Such satellites perform a wide range of military purposes, reaching
from missile surveillance over navigation to intelligence gathering, which makes them
similar to a military scout that gets all the necessary information for further military
actions. The military, of course, needs this information in order to plan actions and feed
other robots. Surveillance by satellites is necessary work for strategic warfare. These
spacecrafts, for example, give early warnings about ballistic attacks, which initiate fast
reactions and detect nuclear detonations, which is helpful when it comes to nuclear test
ban treaties. They are also able to monitor the weather at tactical or regional level.1

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Fig. 5. Cruise missile (Tomahawk) in flight (www.tonyrogers.com)

The rise of the Global Positioning System (GPS), during the 1990s, has made
satellites even more valuable. Navigating via GPS is the most precise way to find a
destination. This technology can now be combined with unmanned vehicles, giving
soldiers the opportunity to control their rockets, aircrafts, or ground vehicles from all
over the world.
Unmanned vehicles are important instruments in modern warfare. The most widely
spread, the so-called drones, are predominantly used for surveillance. These small
aircrafts can take pictures of a region without being recognized as large planes. If an
enemy shoots the drone down, the loss is relatively small and, more importantly, does
not harm any humans. Both drones and unmanned ground vehicles can also be used as
weapons. Soldiers can control the bomb and gun carrying devices via satellite and do
fear human casualties on their own side.
After the first few years of experimenting and development, today seems to be the
golden age of military robots. However, experts are recognizing potential
developments and view todays robots as a Ford Model T, as this is only one of the first
stages of robot development within the military.3 More and more devices perform
certain tasks automatically and are, in this way, able to substitute humans. If soldiers
cannot be substituted completely, they move their position behind a computer from
which their robot will be controlled.

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Fig. 6. GPS satellite network (folk.ntnu.no)

Fig. 7. Predator drone (www.newssum.com)

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V. Future military robots


The military will continue developing robots for their own purposes and will, therefore,
find new purposes over and over again. Technological advances enable the developers
to build new systems for more tasks. Unmanned ground vehicles will be of great value
for such projects because they are already capable of managing several tasks: A
converted Humvee has already driven around military bases at an average of thirty-five
miles per hour and never veered from its planned route by more than eight inches.3
This capability would permit to send unmanned supply convoys, again minimizing
human losses.
Another way to make military work safer is to send ground robots as pioneers
instead of soldiers. Cameras transmit images of the scene, in order to give the soldiers
an expectation of what lies ahead. This is not really new, but in the future, those robots
will carry weapons and be able to perform a wider set of battlefield roles.3

Fig. 8. Packbots can be equipped in various ways for various purposes (science.howstuffworks.com)

One such robot already exists as a prototype. As small as a golf cart, the robot is
controlled by a PlayStation video game controller or software plug-ins, which allows
semi-automatic and fully autonomous modes. The fully equipped robot carries a machine
gun, rockets, and non-lethal weapons. In total, the Gladiator will cost 400,000 Dollar.3
Ground robots are not only required to perform combat roles, as they will also be
used as support for medics, who have one of the most dangerous jobs on a battlefield.
The Bloodhound is one such robot; an improved version of the packbot, which is

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able to find wounded soldiers and conduct simple treatments, such as checking his vital
functions and giving morphine, for instance. Specially designed medbots will also be on
board of evacuation vehicles and drag wounded soldiers into safety.3
Research on medical robots will be one of the major issues in future, as they are
supposed to perform complex surgeries inside the armored vehicle. The Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has already spent more than $12
million on such a remote trauma pod3 in order to reduce the risk for soldiers. This is
based on existing robotic surgical systems and thus, the odds are good that it will be
used in ten to fifteen years time.
Similarly to ground robots, the military also develops robotic devices for use at sea
unmanned surface vessels (USV), as well as unmanned underground vehicles (UUV).
Conditions at sea are more challenging than at land, but the US Navy invests great
amounts in the development of robotic boats and underground boats that will work as
scouts, communicating with a mother-ship or as highly effective weapons.

Fig. 9. Spartan Scout (www.xensory.com)

The developments on ground and at sea will also be continued at air level. Boeing
already presented its X-45 a few years ago. This project, to build an unmanned combat
air vehicle (UCAV), was cancelled by the US Air Force in 2006, obviously because the
drone was too good and came too soon. The Air Force had already spent $28 billion on
the development of the fighter jets F-22 and F-35. However, it is said that the project
has not been given up completely.3

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Fig. 10. Boeing X-45 (commons.wikimedia.org)

The question of the direction in which robotic development might head in the future
still remains. Experts believe that space could be a new battlefield. If a conflict zone
develops in space, it has to be organized with unmanned devices, as it would be far too
expensive to send humans, along with the necessary supplies and oxygen. It costs
roughly $9,100 a pound to launch anything into space with a Space Shuttle.3 Thus, the
first unmanned vehicles for the use in space are already in development. One of these
space ships is Boeings X-37.

Fig. 11. Boeing X-37 (commons.wikimedia.org)

No matter what robotic developments will enter military work, they all have a
common goal: to minimize human losses on their side and increase efficiency.
Technological advances will always enable engineers to build new devices and,
provided that they are creative enough, there will be a lot of innovations within the
sector of the military robot.

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V. Conclusions
History has shown that the military makes use of every innovation that has the potential
to support military work. In ancient times, there were innovations, such as
metalworking or gun powder; in modern times, robotic devices have become popular. If
one product proves to be useful, development of it will be pushed.
Robotics experiences search for a push right now. The military has recognized that
automatic devices are far more efficient than the use of human soldiers, as there is a
reduced risk of mistakes and the devices can also be equipped with powerful weapons.
The military has recognized another advantage, too: more and more robots can do
dangerous work that was previously undertaken by humans. The use of robots for such
tasks makes a soldiers work much more secure; it can even saves lives.
Certainly, most nations try to avoid wars and battles but in order to achieve peace in
conflict zones, a well prepared military is crucial. The realistic concept that the military
still performs life-threatening tasks is reason enough to develop robots that will support
soldiers on their missions.
VI. References
1. ANGELO, J. A. (2007): Robotics: a reference guide to the new technology. Libraries Unlimited. Santa
Barbara, United States. ISBN: 1573563374
2. SICILIANO, B. & KHATIB, O. (Eds) (2008): Handbook of Robotics. Springer-Verlag. Berlin, Germany.
ISBN 978-3-540-29838-0
3. SINGER, P. W. (2009): Wired for War. The Penguin Press. New York, United States. ISBN 978-1-5942-0198-1.
4. WILLIAMSON, M. (2006): Spacecraft technology: the early years. IET. Herts, United Kingdom. ISBN:
0863415539
5. WALLACH, W. (2008): Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong. Oxford University Press.
ISBN-10 0195374045; ISBN-13 978-0195374049
6. LELE, A. (2009): Strategic Technologies for the Military: Breaking New Frontiers. Sage Publication Inc.
ISBN-10 813210241X; ISBN-13 978-8132102410.
7. SZABOLCSI, RBERT: Pilot-in-the-Loop Problem and its Solution, Review of the Air Force Academy,
No. 1/2009, pp (1222), ISSN 1842-9238, Brasov, Romania (Selected paper from the CD-ROM
Proceedings of the International Conference Scientific Research and Education in the Air Force
AFASES 2009, ISBN 978-973-8415-67-6, pp (11691181), 2022 May 2009, Brasov, Romania)
8. SZABOLCSI, RBERT: Stochastic Noises Affecting Dynamic Performances of the Automatic Flight
Control Systems, Review of the Air Force Academy, No. 1/2009, pp (2330), ISSN 1842-9238, Brasov,
Romania (Selected paper from the CD-ROM Proceedings of the International Conference Scientific
Research and Education in the Air Force AFASES 2009, ISBN 978-973-8415-67-6, pp (11821192),
2022 May 2009, Brasov, Romania).
9. SZABOLCSI, RBERT & MIES, GERALD: Robotics in Nutshell Past and Future, CD-ROM Proceedings
of the VIth International Conference New Challenges in the Field of Military Sciences, ISBN 978-96387706-4-6, 1819 November 2009, Budapest, Hungary.

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10. VNYA, LSZL: Excerpts from the history of unmanned ground vehicles development in the USA,
AARMS Vol. 2. Issue 2. 2003. 185197 p. ISSN 1588-8789
11. KOVCS, LSZL: Electronic warfare and the asymmetric challenges. In: Bolyai Szemle, 2009/3. ISSN:
1416-1443
12. YOUNG, V.: Technologies to support future military robotics requirements. In: Proceedings of SPIE
The International Society for Optical Engineering, 4364, pp. 16, 2001. ISSN: 0277-786X
13. CHEN, J. Y. C.: Concurrent performance of military and robotics tasks and effects of cueing in a
simulated multi-tasking environment. In: Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 18 (1), pp.
115, 2009. ISSN:1054-7460
14. LUNDBERG, C.: Evaluation of robot deployment in live missions with the military, police, and fire
brigade. In: Proceedings of SPIE The International Society for Optical Engineering, 6538, art. No.
65380R, 2007. ISSN 0277-786X
15. EDWARDS, C.: Flying squad [military robot]. In: Engineering and Technology, 3 (9), pp. 3639, 2008.
16. WEISBIN, C. R.: Miniature robots for space and military missions. In: IEEE Robotics and Automation
Magazine, 6 (3), pp. 918, 1999. ISSN: 1070-9932
17. COOPER, D.G., KATZ, D. & SIEGELMANN, H. T.: Emotional robotics: Tug of war. In: AAAI Spring
Symposium Technical Report, SS-08-04, pp. 2329, 2008.
18. BUXBAUM, P. A.: Robot wars. In: Aviation Week and Space Technology (New York), 164 (13),
pp. 1416, 2006.
19. GIACHETTI, R. E. & ROJAS, J. A.: Simulating coordination of human-robot teams for military operations.
In: IIE Annual Conference and Expo 2007 Industrial Engineerings Critical Role in a Flat World
Conference Proceedings, pp. 782787, 2007.

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