By Debbie Gregory.
The future of Army warfare will likely involve robotics deployed to perform an array of functions that Soldiers today perform for themselves. To that end, “RoMan”, a small tracked unmanned vehicle, has been built through a collaboration of the military, industry and academic partners.
Short for “Robotic Manipulation,” RoMan is equipped with mounted cameras that can enable the vehicle to locate an object, as well as articulated arms that can grasp and move the object.
“Anytime there’s a mundane or dangerous task, you could put a robot forward to do that thing,” said Marshal Childers, a team leader with the Unmanned Systems Division of the Army Research Lab. This would include tasks such as lifting a box or pouring coffee.
Future plans include making the robot faster and improving its environmental perception to distinguish between objects.
Dr. Stuart Young, who serves as the chief of the Asset Control and Behavior Branch at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory said his team’s project involves making robots more capable of understanding natural language, so they can function more like members of a team rather than just a tool that has to be controlled by a soldier.
Currently, Army robots are tele-operated and require soldiers to control them directly. This means that a soldier who is operating a robot must stop his/her other duties to focus on directing the robot. Requiring a soldier to put down a gun to pick up a controller might result in an additional soldier providing security for that soldier, taking two soldiers out of the fight.
But within the next 20 years, scientists hope to have evolved the robot technology so that the “robot-as-teammate” is a reality.