Autonomous, Snooping Robots Almost Ready for the Front Line

By Eliza Strickland | August 20, 2008 8:30 pm

robot warriorLast weekend, teams of robots maneuvered through an urban warfare training course in southwest England, dodging sniper fire and swerving around roadside bombs. But this wasn’t a new television show featuring battling bots; the robots were competing in the the U.K. Ministry of Defence’s Grand Challenge, which spurred competitors to build autonomous spy robots.

The ministry is eager to develop uncrewed surveillance vehicles that can help the military identify enemy positions in a town or city before sending in troops. The MoD earmarked £4.5m to stage the contest and develop the technologies for the battlefield…. If future work goes well, the technology could be at the disposal of the army within 18 months [The Guardian].

Yesterday, the winners of the competition were announced, with inventors from the technology company Stellar Research Services taking the top prize. Stellar’s approach, called SATURN, involved three separate machines: a high-level flying robotic aircraft, a low-level drone, and a tracked vehicle … that looks like a relative of WALL-E. The mechanical trio had to navigate a mock village, crawling with threats: hidden snipers, armed “militia” in the open, and roadside bombs [Wired News].

The ministry also praised Team Swarm, giving it a prize for the most innovative idea. Their approach was a group of eight autonomous helicopters they call Owls, each weighing less than a kilogram. The swarm of helicopters was able to integrate high-resolution imagery from a number of angles to identify targets and threats [BBC News]. The Ministry didn’t give out cash prizes, but instead funded the teams’ projects and held out the possibility of future contracts to develop the robot warriors for real-world deployment.

Find out what else robots can do these days in the DISCOVER feature “20 Things You Didn’t Know About Robots.”

Image: Ministry of Defence

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