The Military’s Cutting Edge Robots and Drones

Cyber war is all the rage now, but advanced persistent threats are not the only cool thing that happens when you marry hardware and software together. Check out some of the latest tech that is coming down the pipe to a battlefield near you:

US Army A160 Hummingbird VTOL UAS

By early summer, the US Army will deploy three of these robotic helicopters to Afghanistan.

The U.S. Army is using a hybrid-type acquisition approach to develop a helicopter-like, Vertical-Take-Off-and-Landing Unmanned Aerial System with a so-called ARGUS wide-area surveillance sensor suite designed to beam back information and images of the surrounding terrain, service officials said.”

This unmanned eye in the sky will come packing a whopping 1.8-gigapixel color camera, and will be able to scan an area of about 25 miles.

To provide a sense of just how high-resolution this sensor is, Leininger compared it to a standard cell phone camera. A cell phone image typically runs between 1 million and 2 million pixels. With ARGUS-IS, it’s 900 to 1,800 times that number — enough to track people and vehicles from altitudes above 20,000 feet.”

USMC Kaman K-Max

This unmanned cargo helicopter is already in service in Afghanistan. Two were sent in August of last year for battlefield trials. One successfully completed an actual mission last month.

They will be used for resupplying troops in hard to get to or dangerous locations. The K-Max can be flown remotely or the more traditional way requiring a pilot:

K-MAX, which employs a unique counter-rotating, dual-rotor design that eliminates the need for a tail rotor, is capable of lifting 6,000 pounds, or nearly its own weight. Originally designed as a manned civilian craft, K-MAX has been modified by Lockheed to operate with or without a pilot onboard.”

The goal in Afghanistan is to reduce the number of manned convoys. Drone vehicles could eventually account for a large portion of resupply missions:

Pratson has said a single K-MAX helicopter could reduce reliance on convoys to resupply forward operating bases in Afghanistan by 6 percent. At that volume, a fleet of 16 to 20 aircraft theoretically could handle 100 percent of the resupply mission in Afghanistan, although that isn’t the plan for now.”

Robots of the Future

The military has already made heavy use of robots in detecting and disposing of explosive and IED devices. But the push is on to make these robots even more autonomous and intelligent. The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific is working with the Naval EOD technology division to create the next generation robots.

According to the Department of the Navy’s October-December 2011 issue of CHIPS magazine, color and infrared technologies will be used to map an area and detect hostile targets or suspicious devices:

“The Autonomous Robotic Mapping System (ARMS), for example, can automatically explore an unknown or hostile environment while building a highly accurate and detailed map. A scanning laser rangefinder measures distance to all surrounding objects within a 360-degree field of view, and stereo cameras assist with three-dimensional rendering. No human guidance is necessary, other than initial high level direction telling the robot where to search.”

Military drones and robots currently save lives and with the demand for more and better platforms, they will increasingly take over more common and dangerous tasks making our troops safer and more effective.


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