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Military Expanding Role of Robots on the Battlefield

The military has increasingly utilized robot technology in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, where the machines search for IEDs and conduct aerial surveillance. Tom Bearden reports on robots on the battlefield.

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    Battlefield robots are nothing new in Hollywood. The cinematic concept of combat robots has been around since the turn of the last century. The latest vision is coming to a theater near you this summer.

    But they aren't just science fiction anymore. The military has deployed thousands of them for use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The most well known are remotely controlled unmanned aerial vehicles, like the Predator. Less noticed are ground robots, but they're a growing part of the war effort. The military has bought more than 6,000 of them since 2003 at an average cost of $100,000 to $200,000 each.

    One of these is the TALON, which is designed to deal with improvised explosive devices.

    National Guardsman Captain Patrick Callahan and former Marine Steve Roberson, who work for the manufacturer, showed us how they operate. They say these types of robots have saved lives.

    STEVE ROBERSON, technician, QinetiQ, North America: In a seven-month tour, I lost five TALON robots in the field out in western Iraq.


    Would you have lost five soldiers?


    It's a possibility that we would have.


    Bob Quinn is vice president of QinetiQ, which builds TALONs in Bedford, Massachusetts.

    BOB QUINN, vice president, QinetiQ, North America: We make robots that soldiers would like to extend their arms, eyes, ears, legs, and save U.S. soldiers. And I think, in the context of many wars, being able to save our soldiers is hugely important.


    Not far away in Waltham, a company called iRobot, best known for robot vacuum cleaners, is building its own reconnaissance and surveillance robots.

    Instead of using bulky tabletop consoles, soldiers wear backpacks and video goggles that receive images from onboard TV cameras. The robots are operated via handheld controllers similar to those used in video games.

    ADM. JOE DYER (Ret.), president for Government and Industrial Robots, iRobot: This particular robot's a very famous one. We call it Scooby Doo. It did 17 IED missions in Iraq before the bad guys finally got it.


    President for government and industrial robots, retired Admiral Joe Dyer; iRobot's goal is to put simple, inexpensive robots in the hands of the ordinary soldier.


    This is a robot that can go in first and establish what the military calls situational awareness. That means, "I know what I'm going to be facing, and I know what to do when I get there."

    The robot, if you want to think about it, is almost like a scout of old, goes first, and tells you what you need to deal with, paves the way for you.

    This robot can climb stairs. Its built as our lightest robot, 30 pounds, so that it's really manpackable. This is a robot for the infantry, for the soldier. And they're finding hundreds of things to do with it that we'd never thought of.