Posted by: robotnews | March 9, 2006

Robots at war: What would Asimov have to say?

U0204993 ANG KIM HWA KELVIN

That high technology equipment like security/surveillance robots can do much to reduce the exposure of human troops in military and counter-terrorism events [1] make them very captivating subjects. For instance, in the famous novel Deception Point, author Dan Brown conceived the idea of the Delta Force remotely monitoring scientists using very small bug-like devices known as microbots (micro robots). In the real world, defense forces have moved beyond Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and started exploring the potential of land-based armed reconnaissance robots. For example, the United States deployed robot soldiers called the Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection Systems (SWORDS) during the recent war in Iraq. Human US soldiers were able to operate these robots from a distance and minimized their risks of getting caught by the enemy.

Essentially, SWORDS, developed by Engineering and Technology development firm Foster-Miller, is a hybrid of a small arms weapons platform mounted on a Talon robot [2]. The weapons system are interchangeable (M16, M240, M249, Barrett 50 cal, 40 mm grenade launcher or M202 anti-tank rocket systems) [3]. The Talon robot is an all-terrain, all-weather tracked vehicle with day/night capability. The system has an effective control range of 1,000 metres with firing range about 2,000 metres [2]. It runs off lithium batteries, Singars rechargeable batteries, or fixed power supplies. The control box weighs about 30 pounds, with two joysticks that control the robot platform and the weapon and a daylight viewable screen. The robot can travel at a maximum speed of 6.6 km/h. However, firing accuracy is compromised at higher speeds.

The weaponised Talon is a non-autonomous single-agent robot. It is controlled through RF or fiber optic link from an attaché-sized operator control unit (OCU) or wearable OCU being by a soldier watching from up to a mile away [3] . Vision and sensory activities are achieved through an array of cameras which can include both night and thermal vision. However, it is not unforeseeable that upcoming variants of the Talon can be autonomous. Indeed, if co-operative behaviours can be achieved efficiently, multiple autonomous Talon robots might just be the way future wars are fought.

In Singapore, it is unclear whether SWORDS is being used by the Singapore Armed Forces. However, Chief of Army, Major-General Desmond Kuek, said that the army has established a battalion equipped with an integrated sensory network with mini-UAVs and robotics to enhance intelligence collection and situation awareness [1]. Other countries like France are also looking into developing integrated electronic soldier systems.

In the light of changes in the way wars are fought (such as Urban warfare), it becomes imperative that countries conduct research and utilize security and surveillance robots because they minimize casualties and present strategic possibilities to armies. These robots also offer a higher leverage for smaller armed forces. However, the deviant use of robotics at war remains a concern. One genuine fear is that autonomous military robots can be used “for things good soldiers just won’t do” – such as allowing extremely high collateral death toll of civilians in order to kill a few unidentified or difficult targets, or demolition of buildings occupied by non-civilians [4]. Lastly, as we appreciate the benefits of military robots to the user, it might also be interesting to recall the Law of Robotics, the first of which states that “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm” [5]. What would Asimov have to say?

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Responses

  1. would you please to talk more detail about the technology embedded in those robot soldiers? e.g the sensor used, the A.I system…..

    i find it is quite impressive

  2. U0205025 Diana Gobeawan

    Since robots are not supposed to harm human beings, they cant be deployed in wars involving human beings… but then again probably in the future most countries will own their troops of robots who will fight against each other in wars… then no human being will be killed!

    By the way, could you lend me the Deception Point book? 😀

  3. U025049E Wong Liang Mian

    Robotic warfare has disturbing ramifications. A major deterence in initiating warfare is the possible lost of life of the military personnel. Countries do not send they sons to died so causally. However, if robots start to replace human soldiers on the battlefield, such deterence would no longer exist.

    Now, if both sides use robots, then things would be fine, as loss of life would be replaced by loss of equipment on both sides. However, wars are seldom fought between countries of equal military strength. It is not hard to imagine a high tech aggressor invading a less well equipped victim. In this case, people would be sent to died to defend against non humans.

  4. u0204781 Peh Meng Wee

    A war that involves only robots is unthinkable. NO ONE, no one will place the fate of their countries in the hands of robots and acknowledge the outcome of wars fought by robots. This kind of wars would probably be long and bloody as the losing side would revert to using humans and the winning side would slaughter them will these robots.

    Thus, in the end, robots will at most be used to assist in the killing of other humans. To use robots to reduce casualties is probably wishful thinking as robots would be used by both sides is any war.

  5. s0500130

    Why have a war with just robots?? Then will it be a war between different machines, what is the goal and what will happen if this become real?
    You can use these robots for surveillance but i think not more.


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