The military has used autonomous robots for a while now to achieve tasks like surveillance, logistics support, explosive disarmament and other applications. They are now also seen as an alternative to human soldiers by deploying them on the battlefield.
These robots are getting more sophisticated and intelligent with the progress of AI and other emerging technologies. Because of the increasing number of military applications of these robots, and the wide range of areas they can operate in, the military robot industry is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 12.9% between 2017 to 2022, growing from $16.8 billion to $30.8 billion.
The article collates some of the most critical military robots that made news this year in terms of their purchase or innovation, as they become ready for deployment in 2021.
Centaur, developed by FLIR Systems, provides a warfighter with capability to detect, confirm, identify, and dispose of hazards. A remotely operated and medium-sized unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), Centaur is an open architect robot that has a standard chassis that can be attached with different sensors and payloads to support current and future missions. The military application of the robot is mainly in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams. FLIR has received a combined order worth $32 million in November this year from the US Army. FLIR will deliver 250 Centaurs as a part of this deal.
The General Dynamics Land Systems’ Multi-Utility Tactical Transport (MUTT) is a UGV that follows soldiers carrying the gear for them on their route. MUTT can also carry wounded soldiers on the battlefield so that other soldiers can continue with their operation. A remote-controlled MUTT could scout an area before humans and also be used for launching weapons. The US military has signed a contract with General Dynamics and reportedly will end up buying 5,700 robots by 2024.
The THeMIS (Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System) is a multi-role UGV intended to reduce the number of troops on the battlefield. The robot has an open architecture that can be equipped with light or heavy machine guns, 40 mm grenade launchers, 30mm autocannons and anti-tank missile systems. It has a self-stabilising remote-controlled weapon system that provides high precision over wide areas and can also function during day and night. Acquired by 9 countries, 7 of which are NATO members, the manufacturer Milrem Robots carried out a demonstration for the Italian army in November. Around the same time, IrvinGQ, a company that works in aerial delivery systems, developed a modular multi-role airdrop system ATAX that can be used to deploy THeMIS into battlefields or hostile environments.
Manufactured by BAE Systems alongside UAVtec, these Nano Bug Drones are small-sized surveillance drones. Weighing just 196 grams, these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are about the size of just a smartphone. They have a range of 2 kilometres and a battery life of up to 40 minutes. Even with such a small size, the drone can function at 80 kilometres per hour of wind speed and has a high-resolution camera that is soon going to have infrared detection capabilities. With a budget of £66 million announced by the Ministry of Defense for robotic projects, the UK has bought 30 of these drones in December.
Pitbull-3 is a new anti-drone remote-controlled weapon station developed by General Robotics that was unveiled this year. It is a 70-kilogram robot that can be stationed on unmanned or manned vehicles, and air or maritime platforms including ultra-lightweight vehicles. It has an embedded ‘anti-drone track and shoot’ real-time algorithm that can detect a drone at a range of 5 kilometres and shoot it down from 500 metres if moving, or 800 metres if hovering.
aunav.NEO was unveiled by the firm Everis ADS in September this year. The robot has been made to neutralise improvised explosive devices (IEDs), ammunition or Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) threats in tight spaces. A maximum of 20 cameras can be fitted to the robot, and it can generate 3D maps of the environment it is working in. It is the world’s first robot with an adaptable geometry system and thus can adjust its width, allowing it to operate in different scenarios within the same mission. The robot works on a remote control system and can return to the point of recovery if it loses control.
Throwbot 2.0 is a throwable robot made by ReconRobotics that weighs just 0.6 kilograms and can function in indoor and outdoor environments. This military robot relays intelligence and reconnaissance information in real-time. It is an ultra-lightweight waterproof robot that can be thrown anywhere in the field and is designed to crawl over a variety of terrains. It can withstand repeated drops of up to 30 feet. It is mounted with a camera that views objects in the front as well as around the corners. This year Throwbot 2.0 was adopted by an airforce base in Florida, USA.
The Robotic Combat Vehicle – Light (RCV-L) is a purpose-built hybrid-electric unmanned ground combat vehicle (UGCV). It was created by two companies QinetiQ and Pratt Miller Defense. Leveraging the proven maturity of Pratt Miller in Expeditionary Modular Autonomous Vehicle (EMAV) and QinetiQ’s Modular Open System Architecture (MOSA) robotic control systems, the robot was created to be highly flexible and can be integrated with 20 different payloads. In November, the companies delivered the first of the four RCV-L to the US Army that it has agreed to supply. This procurement can be extended to 16 additional RCV-L systems.