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Robotic dogs carrying guns may be on battlefields sooner than you think

Robotic dogs carrying guns may be on battlefields sooner than you think
14 Oct, 2021

Robot dogs with guns mounted on their backs are no longer a matter of science fiction. On Tuesday, an American military robot maker called Ghost Robotics showcased a robot dog with a sniper rifle strapped to its back. The robot was showcased at a convention arranged by the United States (US) Army. 

The firm also shared an image of the quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicle (Q-UGV) on Twitter. It carried a 6.5mm Creedmoor rifle designed by weapons maker SWORD International, which posted a photo of the robot on Instagram. The company calls the robot the Special Purpose Unmanned Rifle, or SPUR, and it seems to have instantly met with criticism from some users on Twitter.

“Gross. I don't want to live in this world, why are we building this world?” wrote one user.

Even so, Ghost Robotics’ robots may not be that far away from being actually put into practice. According to a report by ZDNet today, the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) in Singapore has signed a partnership deal with the company for security, defence and humanitarian applications. The government agency wants to build mobile robotic systems and other technology that it can deploy in “challenging urban terrain and harsh environments”.

According to Ghost Robotics’ website, its Q-UGVs are built for “unstructured terrain” where a wheeled and tracked device “cannot operate efficiently”. “In urban and natural environments, they need to carry sensors, mesh communications, and manipulators for a range of data collection, intelligence, security, asset protection, and military-specific uses where the operating conditions can be hard for even humans to operate in,” the website says.

In a joint statement, the DSTA and Ghost Robotics said that the collaboration would see the company’s robots being used alongside the command, control, and communications (C3) systems designed by the DSTA. “Our Command, Control and Communications (C3) capabilities serve as the nerve centre of numerous military platforms and command centres. We adopt design innovation and use data analytics, artificial intelligence and computer vision to deliver greater effectiveness and tighter coordination during peacetime, military and other contingency operations,” the DSTA’s website says about the C3 system.

"We envision that robots would one day become a defender's best friend and be deployed to undertake more risky and complex operations in tough terrains," said Roy Chan, deputy chief executive for operations and director of land systems at the DSTA.

Singapore's Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) has inked a partnership with Philadelphia-based Ghost Robotics to identify uses cases involving legged robots for security, defence, and humanitarian applications. They will look to test and develop mobile robotic systems, as well as the associated technology enablers, that can be deployed in challenging urban terrain and harsh environments.

The collaboration also would see robots from Ghost Robotics paired with DSTA's robotics command, control, and communications (C3) system, the two partners said in a joint statement released Thursday. 

The Singapore government agency said its C3 capabilities were the "nerve centre" of military platforms and command centres, tapping data analytics, artificial intelligence, and computer vision technologies to facilitate "tighter coordination" and effectiveness during military and other contingency operations. 

Its robotics C3 system enabled simultaneous control and monitoring of multiple unmanned ground and air systems to deliver a holistic situation outline for coordinated missions, including surveillance in dense urban environments. 

With the partnership, DSTA and Ghost Robotics would test and develop "novel technologies and use cases" for quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicles, which would be integrated with multi-axis manipulators. These would enhance how the autonomous vehicles interacted with their environment and objects within it. 

Power technologies, such as solid-state batteries or fuel cells, also would be integrated to allow the robotics systems to operate for extended periods of time. 

DSTA's deputy chief executive for operations and director of land systems, Roy Chan, said: "In the world of fast-evolving technology, close collaboration between organisations is imperative to co-create use cases and innovative solutions. In partnering Ghost Robotics, DSTA hopes to advance robotic capabilities in defence and shape the battlefield of the future.

"We envision that robots would one day become a defender's best friend and be deployed to undertake more risky and complex operations in tough terrains," Chan said. 

DSTA is tasked with tapping science and technology to develop capabilities for the country's Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), including the use of autonomous vehicles. The Ministry of Defence and SAF in June 2021 unveiled a transformation strategy to address evolving security challenges and threats, which encompassed efforts to leverage technological advancements to better tap data and new technologies, such as robotics C3 systems, and integrate these technologies into warfighting concepts to improve operational effectiveness and reduce manpower requirements.

According to Ghost Robotics, its quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicles were built for unstructured terrain, on which a typical wheeled or tracked device could not operate efficiently.