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Army shows future of combat robots in live fire demo

Joe Pappalardo

This week, Army brass gathered for a bullet-spitting exercise that teamed robots and humans, a striking reminder that the Pentagon feels the future of warfare will be dominated by autonomous vehicles.

The Army always discusses robots as helpful auxiliaries to humans, but the machines are getting smart enough to take on more tasks. "We can use robots to do those things they do well and offset those things that humans do well," said Robert Sadowski, robotics senior research scientist at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, which ran the demonstration.

Three vehicles fired weapons, each showcasing new tech that makes unmanned systems so useful in future combat. However, counter to the Army's discussions about "human robot teaming," these systems seemed to showcase how robots can work together, not how people could work with them.

A robotic Humvee rolled onto the range and deployed a drone, showing off a tactic that could increase the range of a reconnaissance unit without risking lives. The Humvee was equipped with an automated target tracking system that guided a machine gun mounted on the top.

In another combination, an unmanned M113 Armored Personnel Carrier rolled through the range. The hatch to the troop compartment opened and, instead of a squad of soldiers, deployed several ground robots.

The biggest display of human-robot teaming came during the "Abrams Lethality Enable Demonstration." This showcased a robotic M113 Armored Personnel Carrier, which dashed ahead of two manned Abrams tanks. The APC released smoke, obscuring the tanks and allowing them to get a better position to shoot at their target. It was a classic use of a robot to do the job too risky, dirty or boring for a human.

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