They say a dog is man’s best friend, and there’s a lot of truth in that.
So what about a robot dog?
The Vision 60 autonomous quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicle — a longer name than Rover, of course — is billed as an all-terrain, dog-like robot equipped with enhanced sensors.
As a part of its one-year pilot program, Vision 60 trotted out to Scott Air Force Base during an evaluation of the robot’s capabilities, according to an Air Force press release.
Heading the test was Air Combat Command’s Agile Battle Lab, which validates and inserts new concepts and technology to enable Agile Combat Employment and its contributions to all-domain warfare.
Fancy words for a dog with byte, rather than bite.
“By no means is this meant to replace a real K-9,” admitted Senior Master Sgt. Marcos Garcia, ACC Detachment 3 Agile Battle Lab, AMC liaison.
“It is simply a force multiplier and can even maybe save some K-9 lives. The experts in the field envision it supplementing a bomb team or leading a foot patrol.”
“A force multiplier” … I guess that means they don’t have to buy it dog bones.
“The major selling point of this technology is that it’s meant to be expendable, whereas our Airmen are not,” said Master Sgt. Justin Hanlon, 375th Security Forces Squadron operations noncommissioned officer in charge.
“We can replace parts on the ghost robot and get it back out to the mission, but the same cannot be said of a human being. The bottom line is this cements our commitment to mitigating risk to our Airmen and protecting them from unnecessary danger.”
Equipped with integrated sensors, the Q-UGV can capture a high-definition video stream and thermal imaging, and boasts an infrared configuration.
A dog can’t do that.
Air Force official say that the dogs would be able to patrol areas that “aren’t desirable for human beings and vehicles” and would even be able to be operated by personnel wearing virtual-reality headsets.
“We will be able to see exactly what the robot dog is detecting through its mobile camera and sensor platform [and] if desired, we will also be able to issue verbal commands to a person or people through a radio attached to the dogs.”
The Q-UGV also utilizes legs that can attain a current speed of seven feet per second and has been tested to outperform wheels, tracks and drones for certain uses in the field.
A dog, could do that … and do it better.
“Instead of using a human being as a sentry, imagine a mobile sensor with a high-definition, wide-angle camera and long-range capabilities being controlled by a trained airman from the safety and security of a Base Defense Operations Center or a Theatre Operations Center in both a garrison or contested environment,” Hanlon said.
During the evaluation at Scott AFB, the ABL sought the insight of force professionals on improvements to the robotic K-9.
“We are a team of motivated innovators and know we have many talented Airmen with great ideas,” Garcia said. “We want to harvest those great ideas and bring them to fruition so we can bring our Air Force into the future.”
While the implementation of this technology is still in its infancy, it has the latent ability to bring the Air Force into a new era of warfighting.
In other words, all that multi-domain stuff you’ve been hearing about.
“The ghost robot has potential to aid the enterprise in getting away from the past where we had airmen walk wingtip to wingtip on flying assets,” Hanlon said.
“We can employ our manpower smarter and more efficiently and this may be a small step to that competency.”
According to The War Zone, the engineers at Ghost Robotics looked at what was already being developed in terms of quadrupedal robots and thought it was all wrong.
Instead, they tried to imitate dogs or other small mammals by enabling the robot to “feel” the terrain underfoot rather than relying on sensors alone.
“We want our robots to feel the environment, transfer it through the motors into our computer platform, and quickly adjust,” said Jiren Parikh, CEO and founder of Ghost Robotics.
Parikh says their robots “actually feel by minute forces that are generated through current changes in the motors.”
This active feedback makes it so that no matter what the environment, the robots will be able to intuitively respond to what’s around them, War Zone reported.
By January 2021, Parikh says, Ghost Robotics Q-UGVs will be able to autonomously map and patrol operating bases.
But patrolling installations is far from the only scenario that the Department of Defense envision for the Q-UGVs.
Some of the payloads and applications that Ghost Robotics has envisioned include a wide variety of intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) roles, War Zone reported.
Electro-optical, acoustic, and other various surveillance sensors can easily be attached to the robots’ frames, allowing them to be the eyes and ears of forces on the ground.
True enough, but there is one thing they can’t do — the amazing sense of smell that dogs have.
For this reason, airports around the world effectively employ drug sniffer dogs.
Oh, and one more thing, a dog will sleep by you, protect you, and be your best friend.
Something a Q-UGV can’t do.