Some of the newest robots to join the US Navy aren’t spy planes or attack drones, they’re house cleaners. According to the Military Times, both the USS Freedom and the USS Independence have Roombas and Scoobas to help them keep the deck shipshape. These vacuums and scrubbers from iRobot are the same as the ones you use at home, only they have cooler names. The USS Freedom gives each little bot in their iRobot fleet a title such as Chief Miles O’Brien. As fun as the robotic cleaners may be, they serve a useful purpose. The Freedom has a typical crew of less than 50, and while they still sweep by hand, the Roombas and Scoobas reduce the time it takes to maintain the 115m long vessel. Freedom’s choice to include robots in non mission critical roles suggests that automation is gaining important at all levels of the military.
There’s no doubt that robots have been playing a larger role in armed conflicts since the turn of the century. Generally though, we think of these machines as replacing soldiers or augmenting their tactical potential. It may seem silly, but something as simple as including cleaning robots on a ship is a sign that robots could have a larger role to play. Cleaning, cooking, mild maintenance – these tasks are a constant part of military life, but they aren’t the most important part of a soldier’s job. Anything that gives a sailor more time to perform mission critical work is likely to improve that work.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself. While the USS Freedom did pick up the idea of a robot cleaning fleet from Cmdr. Curt Renshaw of the Independence, two instances don’t make a trend. This could just be a naval fad. Yet I think the idea of robots in non mission critical roles could be an important part of the future of armed forces. I hope to find more instances of bots taking on these kinds of jobs, and see how soldiers and sailors react to having more time for rack or real work. Who knows, if sailors are happy with results the entire US fleet could be filled with robotic cleaners. If that happens, let me make a suggestion: upgrade to a Neato.
[image credit: Phil Ewing, Military Times]