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Robots Take Part in Military Drills



One area that will be completely changed due to artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics is the military and defense. The U.S. Army Research Laboratory has been working with universities to develop possible human-robot teams. One of their well known projects, sponsored by the Office of Secretary of Defense’s Autonomy Research Pilot Initiative, is called the Autonomous Squad Member (ASM). The ASM is a small ground robot that is used within an infantry squad, and it is able to communicate and interact with members of the squad.

There are new developments with the research, which has actually been a 10-year project aimed at developing autonomous robots and discovering their potential. Army researchers used ground robots to perform military-style exercises, mimicking real soldiers. The exercises were performed at a robotics testing site in Pennsylvania.

The RoMan

One of the new developments from the research is the RoMan, or Robotic Manipulator. It is a tracked robot that can use its robotic arms and hands to maneuver difficult environments. It is capable of moving heavy objects, and it is used to clear paths and remove debris for military vehicles. There was an immense amount of effort put into developing and programming these robots to be capable of operating in such complex environments.

The exercise with the RoMan was part of several events showcasing the achievements of ten years of research led by different scientists and engineers from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory. They worked with the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, University of Washington, University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University, and General Dynamics Land Systems.

The work is part of ARL’s Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance. One of the main aspects was state-of-the-art basic and applied research with ground robotics technologies. The major goal is to develop autonomous robots that can be part of a human-robot team. This research, along with the RCTA program, is important in developing future combat ground vehicles.

A Robot Capable of Reasoning on the Battlefield

The robot military-style exercises put into action the research which has been built around developing a robot that can reason on the field. The goal is to have it capable of interacting with unknown objects and their physical properties. If successful, the robot will be able to reason and figure out the best way to interact with certain objects, leading to the completion of specific tasks.

CCDC ARL’s Dr. Chad Kessens is a Robotic Manipulation researcher. He spoke about the new technology.

“Given a task like ‘clear a path', the robot needs to identify potentially relevant objects, figure out how objects can be grasped by determining where and with what hand shape, and decide what type of interaction to use, whether that's lifting, moving, pushing or pulling to achieve its task,” he said.

The RoMan performed successfully during the most recent exercise. It cleared out multi-object debris, and it dragged heavy objects such as tree limbs. It also was successful in opening a container and removing a bag from it.

Controlled Through Verbal Commands

The robot can also interact with the team members through speech. The soldiers give verbal commands to the RoMan, and it can pick up on natural human language depending on the scenario.

“Planning and learning and their integration cut across all these problems. The ability of the robot to improve its performance over time and to adapt to new scenarios by building models on-the-fly while incorporating the power of model-based reasoning will be important to achieving the kinds of unstructured tasks we want to be able to do without putting Soldiers in harm's way,” Kessens said.

The Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is the U.S. Army’s corporate research laboratory. They have various components including Computational and Information Sciences (CISD), Human Research and Engineering (HRED), Sensors and Electron Devices (SEDD), Survivability/Lethality Devices (SEDD), Vehicle Technology (VTD), and Weapons and Materials Research (WMRD). They are one of the major players in developing artificial intelligence and robotics to be used in combat.


Alex McFarland is an AI journalist and writer exploring the latest developments in artificial intelligence. He has collaborated with numerous AI startups and publications worldwide.