Military Robotics Roadmap 2007-2032

( December 30th, 2007 )

Unmanned Systems Allocation Chart

I recently read through the Defense Department’s and found it absolutely fascinating. We are watching our military evolve right before our eyes in ways that are quite paradigmatic, and will most likely determine the nature of the next century of war fighting. I have frequently posted on interesting developments with respect to robotics on this blog, and have pointed out before the significance of the Defense Department having a cohesive and longterm strategy as it relates to robotics, that the innovation pendulum has already begun to swing from research institutions and private industrial ventures to the military industrial complex. This would not be the first time this has happened, as in the last century, for a time, innovations in aircraft, communications, GPS, and even materials technology was largely driven by military determination, budgetary abundance, and need. The graphic above lays out the unmanned systems capabilities by status and military branch deployment, and it is comprehensive. A similar graphic from five or six years ago would have had about 20% of this graphic’s population. In great detail the report catalogs current capabilities contrasted against specific needs that require further research and development as the investment in unmanned systems technology continues to grow. In effect, it is indeed a detailed roadmap that lays out the developmental action plan to meet the Pentagon’s growing needs for robotic systems of all types. These needs are:

I. Reconnaissance and Surveillance

Expressed as the number one priority, being able to accurately monitor areas of interest in detail while maintaining covertness is highly desirable. Systems in use are already successful, but require standardization and interoperability to better support the increasing diversity of Defense Department users.

II. Target Identification and Designation

Lacking as a current substantial capability, the ability to quickly and positively identify military targets in real-time is a definite need. Combined with reduced latency and improved precision munitions, this capability would further the effort to minimize the risk assumed by “manned systems” while offering better operational effectiveness.

III. Counter-Mine Warfare

Sea mines continue to be a significant threat, and since WWII have caused more damage to US vessels than all other weapons combined. Combine this with the constantly changing IED threat facing soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is a real need for improved and superior mine countering technology. Further development of unmanned systems to identify, mark, remove and or destroy both land and sea mines is a significant need.

IV. Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive (CBRNE) Reconnaissance

The report expresses two substantial needs related to CBRNE, both the ability to efficiently find weapons and to accurately survey affected areas that have been compromised by them.

The roadmap is the result of more than 18 months of work between the Department of Defense, the services and other military and government agencies. While past reports focused primarily on unmanned aircraft systems, there have been significant successes with test deployments of other supporting unmanned systems and the new document subsequently addresses land-and maritime-operated unmanned systems, as well. It is the DoD’s determination that the integration of all the robotic systems are the future of DoD integrated operations from both a systems perspective and also from a joint-service perspective. Integration and interoperability are keys to maximizing the utility and effectiveness of the various systems discussed. The report goes on to elaborate on a series of goals as it relates to unmanned systems:

  • - Improve effectiveness of unmanned systems through improved integration & collaboration
  • - Achieve greater commonality and interoperability of systems, controls & communications
  • - Develop standards that support safe operations & integration with manned systems
  • - Implement standardized protective & safety controls for unmanned systems deploying arms
  • - Utilize rapid prototyping, rapid deployment & real world testing to fast track development

The report is extensive, at nearly 200 pages, but the chart below lays out robotics/unmanned systems capabilities timeline for the next 25 years. As I stated previously, by 2030 the military as we know it will cease to exist and we will have a very, very different operational force.
Military Robot Roadmap 2007-2032 graphic

via

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Robots Claiming More Dangerous Jobs

( December 29th, 2007 )

Offshore oil platform

In the very near future, possibly as close as 2015, oil and gas drilling platforms at sea may be controlled and monitored remotely by humans safely ensconced somewhere on land. In a laboratory financed by , a simulated robotic drilling platform already exists to test systems and to prototype operations. Offshore oil and gas drilling is dangerous not only due to the confined space in which the heavy drilling equipment must operate, but also due to the variable weather conditions that can make human operation of these platforms problematic. And costly. Employing robotics to run the platforms will eliminate the risk to humans of running the platform, and also greatly reduce the cost associated with human operation. The insurance alone will be a tremendous savings. Additionally, robots will be much less susceptible to the extremes of weather and encounter fewer interruptions in operation. Though we’re still drilling for fossil fuels, this seems to be a much smarter and safer way to go about it. The utilization of robotics in an application such as this seems a logical extension of the technology, and a smart combination of automated robotic manufacturing with the use of remotely controlled robotics in high-danger scenarios such as urban warfare.

Clearly, we are very much at the beginning of the application of robotics technology in a diversity of industries, and this is partly because robotics technology is still in its infancy. But the technology advances exponentially, and we will begin to see robotics used in ways analogous to the automated oil platforms like mining, agriculture, firefighting and construction.

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