May 25, 2006 The world of robotics is developing remarkably quickly, mainly due to the keen interest of the United States Government in wishing to ensure its military personnel are shielded from harm’s way. Robots can't get killed. Any damage sustained can be repaired. The seeming necessity to fight a war on terror has accelerated development to dizzying urgency and has precipitated the twice run DARPA Grand Challenge and an Urban Grand Challenge planned for next year. The knowledge gained in conducting these machine olympiads has been fast-tracked into prototypes, the first of which we have just seen, the awesomely powerful Crusher UGV. Other species of UGV have developed ranging from SWORDS, the the world’s first robotic combat soldier, through the six-wheeled R-GATOR to the quadruped robotic mule. Funding is flowing for the development of dozens of military-application UAV systems from man-packable size to massive intelligent jet-powered uber-birds that can identify a human target and take it out in one quite literal fell swoop. We’re also seeing unmanned underwater vehicles developed for exploration, mine-clearance, underwater patrol, inspection, maintenance ad infinitum. And as imagination runs rife in the area, new categories of UAV are emerging such as the omnipotent Cormorant MPUAV and the carbon fibre and Kevlar Snark, the meanest and leanest VTOL UAV on the planet. One area that has been notably lean in unmanned vehicle development is surface craft, so a new vehicle, jointly developed by BAE Systems, RAFAEL and Lockheed Martin is worthy of some attention. The Protector is an unmanned integrated naval combat system with a stabilized gun and the ability to conduct a wide spectrum of critical missions while eliminating unnecessary risk to personnel and capital assets. It’s stealthy, fast and highly manoeuvrable, identifies its targets through an electro-optical system and has day and night strike capabilities. Highly autonomous and remotely controlled, the Protector can successfully operate with general guidance from a commander and operator.
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