The Marine Corps is developing land-borne battlefield robots with flying drone sidekicks

Unmanned Marine robot-drone
gt. Terry Brady, US Marine Corps

Inside the Warfighting Lab at Quantico, Virigna, the Marine Corps is busy building battlefield robots to operate in independent teams. Remote-controlled robots and drones currently perform tasks from explosive ordnance disposal to airstrikes, but remote control requires a controller. “We need to move toward autonomy,” Colonel Jim “Jinx” Jenkins said in a presentation at the Association for Unmanned Systems International’s Xponential conference, Ars Technica reports

Jenkins and his team at the Marine Corps have developed the Unmanned Tactical Autonomous Control and Collaboration (UTACC) program with the intent to train drones to act in “multidimensional uncrewed system teaming.” In other words, the Marine Corps wants these machines to operate as autonomous swarms, collaborating with each other like a well-drilled unit of troops, to support human soldiers in the field. 

Despite the benefits of deploying remote-controlled robots and drones, these machines take their operators out of the fight. Jenkins explained how operators often become vulnerable, as they focus on the robots’ tactics and positioning rather than their own. Thus, the operator needs another soldier to guard his or her back. “A marine is driving [the drone], so we haven’t improved our manpower situation, and sometimes it costs more manpower,” he said.

One of the UTACC’s initial conceptual tests involves a land-based robot supported by an airborne drone. According to Jenkins, “The ground vehicle launches the air vehicle to fill in gaps in its sensor picture,” which they then relay back to an operator. Cargo carrying is another application considered by the Marine Corps, which has already funded development and testing of robots that load ammunition on and off helicopters, thousands of feet over rough terrain, to secluded military posts.

Though the robot teams may be relatively autonomous, Jenkins raised concerns about letting robots roam entirely independently and insisted human operators will still play an integral role in their deployment. He said, “As you talk about unmanned systems, the topic of trust comes up. At what point am I going to trust a machine to pull the trigger? As we start to let machines make decisions for us, we can’t give up basic human judgement.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Hi-viz bike reflectors and a tiny flashlight

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

This insect-sized drone can fly without any moving parts. How? Physics

Researchers from UC Berkeley have built a tiny insect-scale flying robot. Boasting no moving parts whatsoever, its atmospheric ion thrusters also allow it to move completely silently.
Emerging Tech

This oddball Japanese robot will fold your clothes and do your laundry

Hate doing your own laundry? A Japanese robotics startup, Mira Robotics, created a telepresence robot which lets you hire another person to remotely fold your clothes for you through the machine.
Emerging Tech

Get a glimpse of the ocean floor with remarkable images of deep sea creatures

A team from the Schmidt Ocean Institute in Palo Alto, California, have shared remarkable images from their expeditions to the depths. The team traveled off the coast of Costa Rica to collect information about deep sea ecosystems,
Emerging Tech

Atomo’s ‘molecular coffee’ is brewed without needing to harvest coffee beans

Coffee beans, huh? Who needs ‘em? Apparently not the folks behind Seattle-based startup Atomo, who claim to have created a cup of "molecular coffee" that requires no beans to be harvested.
Emerging Tech

Forget police helicopters, California cops are using drones to spot suspects

Police drones deployed by California’s Chula Vista Police Department helped lead to the arrest of 20 suspects over a three-month study. It's a glimpse of the future of drones in law enforcement.
Smart Home

Ford’s ingenious bed for couples keeps mattress hogs in their own half

Drawing on its driverless-car technology, Ford has created a smart bed for couples that uses sensors and a conveyor belt to prevent either occupant from straying onto the other half of the mattress while they doze.
Emerging Tech

Own a drone? New rule means you have to change the way IDs are displayed

Registered drone owners will need to put their machine's ID number on the outside of the aircraft from February 23 in accordance with a new FAA rule. It means the ID can no longer be placed inside the drone's battery compartment.
Emerging Tech

After Kepler kicks the bucket, NASA releases its final image

The final images from the Kepler Space Telescope have arrived. After nearly a decade of operation, NASA’s groundbreaking telescope ran out of fuel last year and was placed into permanent sleep mode on October 30, 2018.
Emerging Tech

Caltech’s bird-inspired robot uses thrusters to help stay on its feet

Researchers from Caltech have developed a new bird-inspired robot that uses thrusters on its torso to help it to walk with more stability. Here's why that challenge is so important.

T-Mobile says Sprint merger will boost 5G speeds by up to 6 times

2019 will be a huge year for T-Mobile. Not only is a merger with Sprint likely, but T-Mobile is also in the midst of building out its next-generation mobile service. Here's everything you need to know about the T-Mobile 5G rollout.
Emerging Tech

Groundbreaking new technique can turn plastic waste into energy-dense fuel

The world has a waste plastic problem. Chemists from Purdue University have a potentially game changing solution: They want to turn it into a gasoline or diesel-like fuel. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

After a record-setting 15 years, NASA ends Opportunity rover’s tour of Mars

NASA has officially called it quits on its record-setting Mars rover Opportunity, eight months after last hearing from the lander. The Rover landed on the Red Planet in early 2004.
Emerging Tech

With CabinSense, cars will soon know who’s riding in them and respond accordingly

What if your car could know who's riding in it and customize the entertainment and safety options accordingly? That’s what's promised by the new CabinSense in-car Occupancy Monitoring System.