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.”


Has Columbus, Ohio raised its IQ yet? A progress report from the mayor

Two years ago, the city of Columbus in Ohio received $40 million to pursue smart city initiatives. So, what’s happened since then? We spoke with its mayor, Andrew Ginther, to discuss progress and what’s ahead.

Nvidia’s Jetson AGX Xavier module is designed to give robots better brains

Nvidia's pricey Jetson AGX Xavier might help drive the next generation of smart robots. Nvidia hopes that developers will use its new Xavier module to power AI-driven machines like delivery drones and robots used in manufacturing.
Emerging Tech

Intel wants its fleet of drones to monitor America’s aging, unsafe bridges

Intel has signed a deal to use its Falcon 8+ drones to carry out bridge inspections. The hope is that these drones will be useful in spotting potential problems before they become serious.
Emerging Tech

Full-fledged drone delivery service set to land in remote Canadian community

Some drone delivery operations seem rather crude in their execution, but Drone Delivery Canada is building a comprehensive platform that's aiming to take drone delivery to the next level.
Emerging Tech

With this robotic garage, retrieving your car is like using a vending machine

Remembering where we parked our cars can be a real pain. But what if our cars came to find us, rather than the other way around? A new automated robot parking valet system aims to help.

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Emerging Tech

A lidar-equipped truck knows exactly how much de-icer to apply on roads

Lidar is best known as the laser-based technology that helps self-driving cars sense their surroundings. But the city of Knoxville has another, more seasonal use for it: De-icing roads.
Emerging Tech

This unusual nature-inspired robot is equally at home on land or in the water

This intriguing, nature-inspired robot may look unusual, but it's impressively capable of moving on both land and water without problem. Heck, it can even travel on ice if necessary.
Emerging Tech

This cryptocurrency wallet for kids isn’t nearly as stupid as it sounds

So you’ve taught your 6-year-old child to read, write, and play nice with others. What’s next? Give them a base understanding of cryptocurrency, of course. This Kickstarter aims to help.
Emerging Tech

Light, speed: Lighting kit for DJI Mavic 2 lets you fly and film in the dark

Lume Cube, maker of small battery-powered LED lights for mobile photography, has announced a new lighting kit built specifically for the DJI Mavic 2 -- the first of its kind. Already our favorite drone, this makes the Mavic 2 even better.
Emerging Tech

Prepare for liftoff: Here are all the important upcoming SpaceX rocket launches

From ISS resupply missions to a host of communication and scientific satellite launches, SpaceX has a busy year ahead. Here's a rundown of some of the company's most important missions slated for the next year.
Emerging Tech

Virgin Galactic’s latest test flight takes it to the edge of space

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has successfully carried out its fourth powered flight in Mojave, California. It was the company's most ambitious test flight yet -- and bodes well for the future.
Emerging Tech

We’re going to the Red Planet! All the past, present, and future missions to Mars

SpaceX isn't the only organization pining to visit the Red Planet. Here's a detailed list of all operational and planned missions to Mars, along with explanations of their objectives, spacecraft details, and mission proposals.
Emerging Tech

There’s a giant EMP blaster in New Mexico. Don’t worry, it’s here to protect us

An electromagnetic pulse has the potential to disable virtually all electronics within a large area. To help protect against such a threat is a new, friendly EMP emitter. Here's how it works.