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Robotics The Military Transportation United States

Army Gives Robo Jeeps a Go 81

jamesl writes with an excerpt from Defense Tech, which says the U.S. Army is sending "four [of] Lockheed's Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) robot jeeps to Afghanistan where they'll haul supplies for troops. The trucks are being sent there as part of a test program to see just how useful robot cargo trucks can be. The 11-foot long trucks can carry a half a ton of supplies for up to 125 miles after being delivered to the field in a CH-47 or CH-53 helo."
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Army Gives Robo Jeeps a Go

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  • As long as they haven't licensed any of Google's patents on self-driving vehicles. I'm sure if it's successful, Google will bitch about it, though.

    • The U.S. government, emphatically the military, doesn't need to license jack... the military contractor providing the jeeps on the other hand...
      • They're the US government... They've been known to just walk in and TAKE what they want... Then tell you that YOU can't tell anybody, or sell your product.

        Best not to complain like that.... After all THEY write the patent laws!

        • "Best not to complain like that.... After all THEY write the patent laws" ... Or rather they get to enforce them with guns when they choose.

  • Or to be more precise, are their cheaper than a normal truck + humans? The US is definitely spending too much money on military. So the right thing to do is, use technology or practices (move out of Afghanistan and start no new war) which is more money efficient.

    However, such truck is (if it works) impressive technology. A real autonomous vehicle. Nice.

    • Each soldier on average costs about $1m for training, equipment and deployment.

      I don't know how much one of these costs but if it saves two soldiers it can have a huge ROI.

      • I don't know how much one of these costs but if it saves two soldiers it can have a huge ROI.

        Only if that means they have a smaller army instead of giving that soldier some other task to perform.

        • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday August 06, 2011 @06:32PM (#37010598) Homepage Journal

          I don't know how much one of these costs but if it saves two soldiers it can have a huge ROI.

          Only if that means they have a smaller army instead of giving that soldier some other task to perform.

          In the short term the drivers would do other work. In the long term the army would adjust its recruitment around the ability to use more automation.

          • Is that really how they think, or do they think "we need n thousand soldiers in our army"?

            I do not know the answer, but I don't think they subscribe to the same line of thought that a corporate entity would use.

            • right now they're trying to do them most they've ever done with the least soldiers to do it. (from a soldiers per activity point of view)

              Don't Forget The Infantry
              http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/272808/don-t-forget-infantry-jim-lacey [nationalreview.com]

            • by tibman ( 623933 )

              The US Army is still using a peacetime number of troops (there have been temporary increases by 10's of thousands though). So the Army got around troop availability by trying to turn every soldier into a trigger puller instead of a paper pusher/laborer. There was a huge reduction in non-deployable engineers, mechanics, medics, drivers, clerical, judicial, and more. Many of those jobs are now civilian/contractor (i'm sure you've noticed the massive increase in contractors working for the army in recent ye

    • by rossdee ( 243626 )

      "are their cheaper than a normal truck + humans?"

      What value do you place on human life?

      It seems smaller than the MULE robotic vehicle that I saw on a Military Channel documentary, which could carry 2000lbs and had more adaptable suspension.

      • Perhaps the US military wouldn't care if they ran over a few Afghan civilian pedestrians, so you're referring to *American* humans that might be *saved* by driverless vehicles, yes?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          a robotic vehicle could actually be safer in that respect. I remember hearing about how patrols that went out in the streets of Baghdad weren't allowed to stop for anything. If a kid stepped out into the street in front of the convoy and they couldn't go around him they were supposed to just honk and hope he got out of the way in time. This was to prevent ambushes from being set up in that fashion.

          A robotic vehicle that will steer around a boulder in the road to avoid breaking an axle is a vehicle that w

      • What value do you place on human life?

        Depends on the humans. Foreign invaders, waging aggressive war on behalf of corrupt politicians and rich companies? Their value would be negative.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Negative value? So if someone assigns you a negative value according to their perceptions and value system, is it acceptable for them to kill you?

          I can understand if you are bitter over current or past wars, but that does not justify devaluing human life.

        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          A snide little, fuzzy-haired, self-styled intellectual who hasn't touch a boobie yet: not even human. Waging war? Someone has to do it. It isn't going to be you, so shut up when someone else does it.

      • What value do you place on human life?

        Is that an American life or an Afghani life? I think you've avenged 9/11 by about 200:1 so far...and the majority of those were civilians.

        Clue: The best way to "save lives" is not by deploying these...

    • The real question is not so much is it better now, as will it be better later. The answer to the latter is almost definitely yes. The army is one of the few organizations that has the budget and will to exercise forethought for the future. And that helps develop technology. So while robots may not be effective now, thanks to the efforts of the military they might be 20 years from now. Which is why they spend so much money developing them now.
  • Aren't they afraid of looting? I am afraid as soon as the locals learn these are not manned, they will start noticing the helicopters and loot the trucks once they are deployed.
    • These areintended for squad support, so there will always be someone around it. Autonomous just means no one has to be dedicated to drive the thing.

      • by rednip ( 186217 )

        I suspect that squads deployed with this thing might be slightly larger to account for the requirement of 'protecting' a mobile base while projecting force into a place otherwise inaccessible to it. While the might not need to tell it exactly where to go most of the time, someone will always need to attend to it, and even though it looks nimble, it certainly won't go in many places which are otherwise accessible to the squad.

        It's use will need to be carefully considered, but as our soldiers have modern arm

    • just because they are unmanned, doesnt mean they have to be unarmed
    • It's not looting, it's "finding food".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    My first thought when I saw the picture of this was the possibility for some terrorist to just run up on the side of this vehicle, plant a bomb, and wait for the vehicle to enter an army base before detonating... I suppose that when it's unmanned there will be no one there to check if it's secure before it enters a base. And when there's no mounted gun turret the risk would be minimal...

  • I can see it now. Afghani soldiers wait until it drives by and then jump on, cut loose all the stuff and then jump off. Free everything!

    So, you would need a patrol with it so you're saving one guy. Nice work for how many billion dollars each?

    • by lgarner ( 694957 )
      You have support troops in the convoy anyway.
      • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

        You have support troops in the convoy anyway.

        So why not, uh, have them drive the vehicles and save some money?

        • by qxcv ( 2422318 )
          Is there anybody here that can RTFA? Oh well, the two main reasons I can think of (off the top of my head) are:
          1. 1. One less person with their hands on the steering wheel = one more person with their hands on a gun
          2. 2. If the vehicle hits an anti-vehicle mine, only the vehicle will be destroyed. If somebody is at the wheel, OTOH, the driver will be destroyed too

          It may only be of limited utility (on foot patrols, etc) but, as mentioned above, a single life saved is a massive ROI both psychologically and f

        • Take your 10 truck, 50 man supply convoy. Eliminate the 10 drivers, and increase the security detachment by 5. I just reduced manpower by 10%, and upped security by 12%. Lower costs, more secure - seems like a win-win all around.
    • I can't help but thinking the Army must have thought of that problem.

      Not sure what solution they thought of, but the easy one I come up with is to load explosives on the thing, so that anyone trying to remove items without knowing the code gets blown up.

      Also, the US military tends to control the high ground (because they are easy to take and control.....in guerilla warfare, the weaker side has to hide in the large, but otherwise indefensible terrain). It is possible in many regions that they can guard t
      • by rossdee ( 243626 )

        It would have ir cameras and other sensors, so it would see them coming, If you have something like a claymore strapped to the side you could discourage the enemy somewhat.

        Read any of the BOLO stories?

    • You know the Afghani Soldiers are on our side right? Just checkin'
      • Really, the term "Afghan soldier" is kind of vague. In news reports, it usually means Afghan National Army. In a strict sense though, Taliban soldiers are [mostly] Afghan, and they are definitely soldiers. Sometimes the term "fighter" is used in place of "soldier" to indicate a Taliban soldier. I never liked this though. It feels like a cheap attempt to avoid the Geneva conventions.

        Terminology aside, if you think the ANA or ANP or anybody in Afghanistan is above looting the shit out of free supplies
        • by tibman ( 623933 )

          I agree with you but i'd say that a soldier wears a uniform. A fighter would wear whatever.

    • This thing isn't meant to be go on solo missions, especially since its only carrying half a ton. You definitely can't resupply an OP with just 1000 pounds of equipment. In fact, the article even says

      Besides the obvious benefit of reducing the load carried by an infantryman (giving him more mobility and energy) the little trucks could be the first step toward reducing the number of humans needed to ressuply bases.

      The benefit is reducing the load. Its primary mission is not at all to resupply bases.

  • If we can have drone aircraft, why not drone humvees?

    A convoy of remote control humvees, followed by a couple of humvees full of troops to keep the locals from planting bombs, cutting the cargo off, etc.

    With the added benefit of any IEDs in the road probably explode when the first or second humvee goes past, and the wetware in the back is relatively safe.

    (No, I didn't read the article.)

    • If we can have drone aircraft, why not drone humvees?

      Driving on a road requires way faster response times and feedback than flying through the air. Believe me, they would LOVE to have drone Hummers.

    • by tokul ( 682258 )

      With the added benefit of any IEDs in the road probably explode when the first or second humvee goes past

      Attack targets first and last vehicle in the column. When they are knocked out, others have nowhere to go. You don't have to RTFA, but you do need to learn basic tactics of RPG warfare.

      • by lgarner ( 694957 )
        IED != RPG
      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        The countermeasure would be to have Reapers escorting the robo-car convoy. Robots would be able to maintain perfect spacing to minimize the damage from daisy-chained IEDs. Shooting out the front and back only works if you have a way to destroy the vehicles trapped in the middle, which might be difficult to do when there's a Reaper firing Hellfires up your ass.

        Even if they succeed in blowing up some supplies, at the end of the day, they're paying human lives while we're just burning money. They'll run out of

        • by Rennt ( 582550 )

          They'll run out of people before we run out of money.

          But that is the problem, isn't it? They haven't run out of people, and we have run out of money. Asymmetrical warfare can be a bitch like that.

          We are going to spend at least a trillion dollars on this war. Even if we spend a million dollars to kill a bad guy, that's still a million dead bad guys.

          And a smoking crater for an economy.

    • That's basically what this is, right?
    • by siddesu ( 698447 )

      Because there are no self-propelled Taliban soldiers where the drone aircraft flies. Yet.

  • Since the Jeep Wrangler is the official frat boy car, that shouldn't be too hard. They all have the same personality, drink the same beer, and listen to the same music.
  • Until we get COBRA B.A.T. s firing at us with those blue lasers with an extremely cool sound ?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YjfGex5JHY [youtube.com]

    (I was really disappointed when I didn't hear that sound in the GI Joe hollywood movie)

  • No end to war (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 )

    And I bet many of you are wondering: what is up with all this spending on more war and having this debt problem all at the same time?

    Nixon defaulted on the promise to pay gold for US reserve notes in 1971 to keep financing the war when France was actively trying to redeem their USD for gold. Now THAT was a real default. What they have today is a joke. But the wars must go on.

    Wars must always go on. Robots must roll in the deserts of Afghanistan. Well, many they tried different types of wars in Afghanistan,

    • Being prepared for war is expensive and dangerous. However the cost of not being prepared is much higher. This was only costs the US marginally more then if we were to just be prepared. Look it up. Also look up the casualties. Compare baseline numbers of both in non-war years to now. Ignore what is considered budget for the war. Just compare the total budgets from year to year. You'll find that the budget problem in the US actually has very little to do with the engagements in the middle east.
      • Right, because Afghanistan was obviously going to attack USA and it needed to be stopped before it did. Or maybe the people who attacked USA were mostly in Saudi Arabia, not Afghanistan. But who cares about minute details, prepare for war.

      • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

        Being prepared for war is expensive and dangerous. However the cost of not being prepared is much higher.

        True. Because if it wasn't for spending more on the military than the entire rest of the world who knows what country might declare war on America next week. The Bolivians could be in Washington by Thursday if America didn't have fifty aircraft carriers to stop them.

  • It's kinda neat how it carries the soldier's stuff. But why not take it a step further and put some seats on it so it can carry the soldiers too? Of course, you'd want to then add a roof and windshield to keep the rain off. It'd be nice to add air conditioning to the troop area, so you'd want the option to fully enclose it, and really the best way is to just add some doors to the sides. Maybe some armor too, in case someone takes a pot shot at them. Then you could mount a big gun on top so they could s

    • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Saturday August 06, 2011 @07:10PM (#37010790)

      "In all seriousness, I don't see where the "follow me" mode would be more useful than a HMMWV or a light APC. "

      It isn't. An M-113 derivative, the Lynx, can fit in a CH-47 and bring armored protection and a cannon to the fight. We got rid of them years ago because of light infantry narcissism where tracks are considered to be for "mech pussies". An improved version with the engine in front (the Lynx has it in back though M-113s have them up front) could fit more easily, carry more troops UNDER ARMOR, and carry plenty of supplies externally.

      The turf wars between Light Infantry Narcissists and Treadheads led to the elimination of light and medium tracked armored vehicles, and modern Global Love Enforcement missions have a preference for wheeled armored trucks like Stryker. (They are comfortable, and compared to an ancient tracked fleet that is not modernized because most of the Army would rather not have it, no wonder the passengers prefer them.)

      That's why the Sheridan is gone with no replacement and the AGS got cancelled. Real men don't want tank support or to admit tanks and AFVs are necessary or useful.

      The reduced ground pressure and vastly better off-road performance of tracked systems are why many foreign forces retain them.

      Wheeled vehicle ground pressure is quite high, restricting wheeled trucks to roads where they are canalized into a predictable path of travel then killed by mines and command-detonated mines (now called IEDs as if the idea is fucking modern, yay for buzzwords!).

      • by tibman ( 623933 )

        I actually saw a lot of 113s in Iraq.. fresh paint jobs and everything. My guess is they took them out of boneyards and renovated them?

        I do like your commentary on heavy vs light though. IMO (and i'll be flamed for this) big infantry was so balls slow they were practically useless. The only operations they seemed capable of was large cordon and search. Actually responding to an attack? hell no. QRF? not possible. It takes trucks and track to move troops into the fight. I think infantry is dead.. it's

        • The 113s with fresh paint should be mostly A3s which are uparmored and have a more powerful powerpack. Look for the "wing tanks" on either side of the ramp to identify an A3. Getting the fuel tank out of the crew compartment was a huge step forward. (The 113 was originally designed for the atomic battlefield and meant to be small and light.)

          Camp Shelby has literally thousands of A2s in war reserve so there are plenty to mod, and the design lends itself to modification which is why it's the most successful A

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday August 06, 2011 @07:20PM (#37010846) Homepage Journal

    So they've been assigned a Thunderbird 2 pod number?

  • I have a problem with seeing things like this, in the midst of the largest deficit ever, and two wars that make Vietnam look like a high school baking class.

    Cut funding for these bullshit wars, and let companies like GOOGLE develop this technology on and for use on American soil.
  • rather than follow the soldier ?
  • cost, what is their failure rate, how accurate are they, what is their energy consumption, are there known bugs, how secure are they...

    these used to be things we did science on to determine the answer...now, thanks to perpetual war in 3-4 year
    increments, actual science doesnt really need to be done. deliciously cheap graduate student labour provides
    a 'base model' for the project and augmentation is made based on defense contracts and the latest war paint colour.
    slap some logos on it and bobs your uncl
  • This thing would be handy for shopping at Costco.

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva