First-gen armed robots are tough, smart and packing plenty of heat. Welcome to the age of the real killer apps.
At a muddy test track in Grand Prairie, 21 km west of the city of Dallas in Texas, the robot is winning. It has climbed on top of a sedan, its 2 -ton bulk propped on the crumpled roof. The car never stood a chance.
The MULE (Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment) is roughly the size of a Humvee, but it has a trick worthy of monster truck rallies. Each of its six wheels is mounted on an articulated leg, allowing the robot to clamber up obstacles that other cars would simply bump against.
Right now, it’s slowly extricating itself from the caved-in roof, undulating slightly as it settles into a neutral stance on the tar. This prototype’s movements are precise, menacing and slow. When the final product rolls onto the battlefield in six years, it will clear obstacles in stride, advancing without hesitation. And, like the robot cars that raced through city streets in last fall’s Pentagon-funded DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) Urban Challenge, the MULE will use sensors and GPS coordinates to pick its way through a battlefield. If a target is detected, the machine will calculate its own firing solutions and wait for a remote human operator to pull the trigger. The age of killer robots is upon us.
Read more in the April 2008 issue of Popular Mechanics, on sale on 17 March.