The Stryker is an 18-ton infantry vehicle, already deployed by the U.S. army in places such as Iraq. Right now, it has human drivers. But that will no longer be the case by 2010, when it will be driven by a robot, tells us the Washington Post in "Stryker, Army's Robot for No Man's Land" (fast and free registration for first-time visitors).
The Stryker, one of the U.S. Army's newest infantry vehicles, is fitted with a "ladar" scanner, the equivalent of a mounted pair of eyes that see by emitting 400,000 laser and radar beams and snap 120 camera images every second. Its brain -- a 40-pound computer system tucked inside its body -- processes that data, and makes instant judgments on how to act and where to go.
The eight-wheeled Stryker has already seen service in Iraq as an armored troop carrier with human drivers. The idea is to teach Stryker to accomplish a mission on its own, as a robot. By 2010, robotic Strykers and similar contrivances are slated to be in use as all-purpose battlefield vehicles, surveying battlegrounds, sniffing for land mines, or transporting supplies and troops to the front line.
Here is a photograph of a convoy of Strykers. (Credit: U.S. Army Stryker Operational Evaluation)
For more information about the Stryker, you can download this brochure (PDF format, 2 pages, 294 KB). However, I don't think you can buy one.
These robots are developed by General Dynamics Robotic Systems, Inc. (GDRSI), which received $185 million last November to build between 30 and 60 automated-navigation prototypes to be used in all kinds of military vehicles.
And this money just represents a small tip of a very large iceberg.
Creating automated navigation systems for combat vehicles is part of the Future Combat System project to remake warfare. The Army plans to spend $14.78 billion on a new combat system over the next six years, of which autonomous navigation systems is one part, according to Maj. Gary Tallman, public affairs officer for the Army.
Still, these robots are not very smart and have a lot to learn, according to the manufacturer.
"Now, we have the basic functioning down, and we're trying to make it smarter at something, or better," said Chip DiBerardino, a senior engineer for General Dynamics who works on programming higher intellect into software.
One recent morning, DiBerardino tested a four-wheeled robot called MDARS (short for Mobile Detection Assessment and Response System), a robotic watchdog that patrols the Westminster lab's snow-covered backyard looking for "intruders." It drives several feet, eyes a parking sign and halts, apparently puzzled, until a human attendant reprograms MDARS to move on.
Here is a photo of this security patrol robot on a demo mission at the General Dynamics plant in Westminster, Md. (Credit: Ricky Carioti, The Washington Post)
If you are interested in this subject, you might want to read this former story, "Gladiator Robot Looks to Join Marine Corps."
Sources: Yuki Noguchi, Washington Post, January 30, 2004; and various websites