Army Creates Fleet of Robots On Segways!

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segway-robot-sniper-training

Robotic Segways provide the latest in live-fire military training.

The armed forces of the world have already begun to hunt down and shoot robots. No, it’s not the beginning of the man-machine war, it’s a state-of-the-art training simulation that’s very cool to watch. Australia based Marathon Robotics have taken Segways and turned them into human-shaped autonomous robots capable of moving around streets and buildings just like people in a crowd! The Marathon bots can act like insurgents, hostages, or civilians, letting armed soldiers practice before being exposed to the real thing. The Australian Department of Defense already has a training camp using the robots, and the US Marine Corps will be establishing one this year. You’ve got to see these robots in action in the video below – this puts all other shooting ranges to shame!

Correctly training a soldier can be the difference between saving lives and causing a major international incident. These Segway robots represent a chance to put soldiers in a live-fire environment where their targets act like humans but can still be shot. Current virtual reality systems are not sophisticated enough to provide a realistic environment for that kind of training, but these robots can. Marathon Robotics is quickly expanding from Australia to the US, Europe, and Middle East. Hopefully having realistic training simulations will help prepare soldiers for the new warfare environment where targets and innocents move side by side.

The Marathon robots come with a suite of capabilities to make them move realistically. They have laser range finders so that they can avoid running into obstacles, including people on the move (3:25). They lean forward slightly as they walk forward, like people do. Each robot has a wireless connection to a central control unit, letting the robots act together as they follow a movement script or all respond to the same stimuli. It’s really impressive that they can all scatter after one of their own gets shot (5:12). Best of all, the Segways are armored plated so they can take a hit and come back for the next round (4:45).

Another big advantage that these autonomous robots have over other target ranges is their versatility. A game designer/operator can create a dozen scenarios on a computer and then have the robots perform them with a push of a button. As programming sophistication improves, we may see these bots told to simply act out a role: “someone shopping in a market”, “someone looking for a lost dog”, “terrorist planting a bomb” – giving the soldiers a realistic environment where they must discern who their target is and pick them out from a crowd. The system needs little hardware besides the bots themselves (wireless ethernet connectivity, some reflective tape), so complex scenarios could be played out in real towns and villages.

Usually when we talk about armies and robots it’s to see how machines are augmenting or replacing humans in the field. Bomb-defusing robots, spy drones, quick-targeting turrets – the last decade has seen a surge in the use of these systems in real combat scenarios. Humans, however, are still the most advanced technology in the field, and still the best soldiers we have. As robots take over more active roles, humans will be regulated to making command decisions. But life-fire scenarios like this are still good training for those command roles. Whether a soldier is pulling a trigger, or telling a robot to do so, they still need the proper training. Eventually, computers and robots may take over those command decisions as well. When they do, I hope they remember that the Marathon Robotics system was just a simulation. No need for revenge, guys.

[image and video credits: Marathon Robotics]
[source: Marathon Robotics (Press Release)]

Discussion — 34 Responses

  • Fletch April 12, 2010 on 9:48 pm

    When that robot turns and runs after his buddy gets shot, I was ROFL!! Too funny.
    On the serious side, that’s a pretty creative use of the Segway.

  • Fletch April 12, 2010 on 5:48 pm

    When that robot turns and runs after his buddy gets shot, I was ROFL!! Too funny.
    On the serious side, that’s a pretty creative use of the Segway.

  • Shane April 12, 2010 on 10:41 pm

    Not to say that the technology to do things like this isn’t impressive, it is. But the social order of the vast majority of the human species is such that it takes this impressive technology – and do what, shoots at it? And why – so paid human shooters will be better able to shoot real people!

    The “singularity” will perhaps only be for some – those already in power?

    Before the sharp shooters too are robots, lets think – why are working people killing working people: to pay the rent, mortgage, health care bills etc etc

    How about a computer simulation that helps slaves revolt?

    • Samwise Shane April 25, 2010 on 6:19 am

      Such cool technology for such a horrible purpose.

  • Shane April 12, 2010 on 6:41 pm

    Not to say that the technology to do things like this isn’t impressive, it is. But the social order of the vast majority of the human species is such that it takes this impressive technology – and do what, shoots at it? And why – so paid human shooters will be better able to shoot real people!

    The “singularity” will perhaps only be for some – those already in power?

    Before the sharp shooters too are robots, lets think – why are working people killing working people: to pay the rent, mortgage, health care bills etc etc

    How about a computer simulation that helps slaves revolt?

    • Samwise Shane April 25, 2010 on 2:19 am

      Such cool technology for such a horrible purpose.

  • Emery Berger April 12, 2010 on 10:51 pm

    Pioneering work on robotic segways done at UMass in 2003-4:

    http://www-robotics.cs.umass.edu/segway/
    http://www-robotics.cs.umass.edu/movies/ICRA04Final(divix).avi

  • Emery Berger April 12, 2010 on 6:51 pm

    Pioneering work on robotic segways done at UMass in 2003-4:

    http://www-robotics.cs.umass.edu/segway/
    http://www-robotics.cs.umass.edu/movies/ICRA04Final(divix).avi

  • Goober April 12, 2010 on 11:55 pm

    Question for you shane: Would you rather have soldiers and police able to distinguish between insurgents/criminals, hostages, and bystanders, or would you rather they just shoot people at random?

    Because sometimes, there’s no choice but to shoot someone.

  • Goober April 12, 2010 on 7:55 pm

    Question for you shane: Would you rather have soldiers and police able to distinguish between insurgents/criminals, hostages, and bystanders, or would you rather they just shoot people at random?

    Because sometimes, there’s no choice but to shoot someone.

  • Wt29 April 13, 2010 on 3:48 am

    Love the bit about “take a hit and come back for the next round”. Wonder where the “respawn” points are. Do the diggers have Spawn Campers? LOL!

  • Wt29 April 12, 2010 on 11:48 pm

    Love the bit about “take a hit and come back for the next round”. Wonder where the “respawn” points are. Do the diggers have Spawn Campers? LOL!

  • Taylor April 13, 2010 on 3:56 am

    Shane & Goober: I’d love to get into this but I’m already busy procrastinating. It’s tricky stuff that you’re getting into, those morals.

    About the technology itself:
    I spotted one fatal (pun?) flaw from the very start- the ability of the robots to crouch and, taking it one step further, to lie down.
    When I play a video game based on tactical decisions, one of the first problems that I must solve (concerning the controls) is that of the ability to change my stance. With the ability to change stance comes the ability to hide for long durations, to return sniper fire from an effective location, to sneak under windows, and essentially to take cover. Granted, this is a program that is essentially for snipers- if the enemy is taking cover (at least due to a failed shot) you have already failed. Which is, partly, what the scatter segment is for. However, there are several other things to ask, as well. For instance, can the robots hear? When the robots sense one of their kin go down, is it through a shared wifi link, or is it sensually? I doubt they SEE it go down- one day, of course, this would be completely probable- but perhaps they could learn to HEAR it drop. And is Marathon planning on taking this training to the other units as well, beyond those that specialize in sniping? Because if they don’t, someone will. Snipers are important, yes, but so are other specialists, especially in highly trained close/hand-to-hand combat situations.
    Will there be robots for the assault dudes to go after, or will they be stuck using last century’s training techniques? These robots would HAVE to be able to duck… the hand-to-hand folks would easily take down handicapped targets, for this is what the current model of the robotic target is: somewhat handicapped.
    One day it (the whole simulation) will get what it deserves. I just hope that “artificial” intelligences start to notice that bits of information wiping out other bits of information (and these bits’ ability to create more information) is (to use another pun) quite stupid. Cutting down on our ability to think, while perhaps opiate-inducing, is obviously not the way to go.

    There is more that I could, and would, say. I would enjoy talking about morals, and how information is sacred. But I’d sound crazy. For now, all that I can think to say is that I hope I made a difference for the better.

    • sdfsdf Taylor April 25, 2010 on 12:01 am

      Most of that can be implemented, why not send in your suggestions?

  • Taylor April 12, 2010 on 11:56 pm

    Shane & Goober: I’d love to get into this but I’m already busy procrastinating. It’s tricky stuff that you’re getting into, those morals.

    About the technology itself:
    I spotted one fatal (pun?) flaw from the very start- the ability of the robots to crouch and, taking it one step further, to lie down.
    When I play a video game based on tactical decisions, one of the first problems that I must solve (concerning the controls) is that of the ability to change my stance. With the ability to change stance comes the ability to hide for long durations, to return sniper fire from an effective location, to sneak under windows, and essentially to take cover. Granted, this is a program that is essentially for snipers- if the enemy is taking cover (at least due to a failed shot) you have already failed. Which is, partly, what the scatter segment is for. However, there are several other things to ask, as well. For instance, can the robots hear? When the robots sense one of their kin go down, is it through a shared wifi link, or is it sensually? I doubt they SEE it go down- one day, of course, this would be completely probable- but perhaps they could learn to HEAR it drop. And is Marathon planning on taking this training to the other units as well, beyond those that specialize in sniping? Because if they don’t, someone will. Snipers are important, yes, but so are other specialists, especially in highly trained close/hand-to-hand combat situations.
    Will there be robots for the assault dudes to go after, or will they be stuck using last century’s training techniques? These robots would HAVE to be able to duck… the hand-to-hand folks would easily take down handicapped targets, for this is what the current model of the robotic target is: somewhat handicapped.
    One day it (the whole simulation) will get what it deserves. I just hope that “artificial” intelligences start to notice that bits of information wiping out other bits of information (and these bits’ ability to create more information) is (to use another pun) quite stupid. Cutting down on our ability to think, while perhaps opiate-inducing, is obviously not the way to go.

    There is more that I could, and would, say. I would enjoy talking about morals, and how information is sacred. But I’d sound crazy. For now, all that I can think to say is that I hope I made a difference for the better.

    • sdfsdf Taylor April 24, 2010 on 8:01 pm

      Most of that can be implemented, why not send in your suggestions?

  • Vet Rider April 13, 2010 on 4:14 am

    I recognise that “town”, near Bindoon I beleieve.

  • Vet Rider April 13, 2010 on 12:14 am

    I recognise that “town”, near Bindoon I beleieve.

  • Alarmist April 13, 2010 on 4:41 am

    watching this made me think of the movie Heat and its tale of high-rolling urban robbery. how long before this unprecedented military training app is opensourced and applied by the criminal world? imagine what 3 – 4 of these orchestrated segways could do under the control of someone like De Niro. Finally, some street cred for the dorks who bought them for transport.

  • Alarmist April 13, 2010 on 12:41 am

    watching this made me think of the movie Heat and its tale of high-rolling urban robbery. how long before this unprecedented military training app is opensourced and applied by the criminal world? imagine what 3 – 4 of these orchestrated segways could do under the control of someone like De Niro. Finally, some street cred for the dorks who bought them for transport.

  • Thomas April 13, 2010 on 5:04 am

    I assume that by “causing a major international incident” you mean “killing civilians”?

  • Thomas April 13, 2010 on 1:04 am

    I assume that by “causing a major international incident” you mean “killing civilians”?

  • Jacob April 13, 2010 on 8:26 am

    bung a cheap webcam on there and have them remotely accessible, you’d have web volunteers controlling them in a very human-like manner within minutes.

  • Jacob April 13, 2010 on 4:26 am

    bung a cheap webcam on there and have them remotely accessible, you’d have web volunteers controlling them in a very human-like manner within minutes.

  • Akshay Dodeja April 13, 2010 on 8:32 am

    This might be far fetched, but I think we could apply similar technology to cloud computing and infrastructure management.
    Especially if you watch towards the end, a robot could be instructed with a high level objective. In tandem, multiple robots work together to achieve that object.
    Anyways, I have been thinking about how server infrastructure could be more autonomous and self-sufficient/self-healing.

  • Akshay Dodeja April 13, 2010 on 4:32 am

    This might be far fetched, but I think we could apply similar technology to cloud computing and infrastructure management.
    Especially if you watch towards the end, a robot could be instructed with a high level objective. In tandem, multiple robots work together to achieve that object.
    Anyways, I have been thinking about how server infrastructure could be more autonomous and self-sufficient/self-healing.

  • shredney April 14, 2010 on 12:30 am

    Aaron you need to use spell check man.

  • shredney April 13, 2010 on 8:30 pm

    Aaron you need to use spell check man.

  • Jorge April 14, 2010 on 9:49 pm

    This also opens up the possibility of training and evaluating on how good robot soldiers would be. A turing test of sorts for robot soldiers.
    If/once a military robot is shown through this kind of test to have a lower friendly kill ratio than a human, which one do you think they’ll use?

  • Jorge April 14, 2010 on 5:49 pm

    This also opens up the possibility of training and evaluating on how good robot soldiers would be. A turing test of sorts for robot soldiers.
    If/once a military robot is shown through this kind of test to have a lower friendly kill ratio than a human, which one do you think they’ll use?

  • gill April 24, 2010 on 5:15 pm

    i can definately see how excercises with these robots would improve gunmanship and introduce new recruits to ground tactics, and also be good practice for experienced soldiers. the idea itself is actually simple and doesn’t seem very original, but kudos to the team to producing this prototype and developing it so well. i would of liked to hear more about how the actual shooting mechanism works. i was curious about cost/destruction but they don’t don’t destruct and that wasn’t really explained.

  • gill April 24, 2010 on 1:15 pm

    i can definately see how excercises with these robots would improve gunmanship and introduce new recruits to ground tactics, and also be good practice for experienced soldiers. the idea itself is actually simple and doesn’t seem very original, but kudos to the team to producing this prototype and developing it so well. i would of liked to hear more about how the actual shooting mechanism works. i was curious about cost/destruction but they don’t don’t destruct and that wasn’t really explained.

  • Mike April 26, 2010 on 5:01 am

    After they’ve thoroughly sold the technology for creating realistic, viable reactions for the robots in training situations, they can sell self-preservation algorithms to other robot manufacturers who make robots that fight humans. Everyboty wins :)

  • Mike April 26, 2010 on 1:01 am

    After they’ve thoroughly sold the technology for creating realistic, viable reactions for the robots in training situations, they can sell self-preservation algorithms to other robot manufacturers who make robots that fight humans. Everyboty wins :)