DARPA Seeks Funding For Soldier Surrogates

By Eric Beidel
Petman is a two-legged robot the size and shape of a human, minus the head. It can walk, crawl and even do push-ups. Machines like this may be able to fight in place of soldiers one day.

Recent advancements in technology, namely drones, have raised the question of whether troops may eventually be able to fight wars without ever putting themselves in harm’s way.

That is the concept behind a program for which the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has requested funding. The “Avatar program will develop interfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bipedal machine and allow it to act as the soldier’s surrogate,” according to a description of the program in budget documents.

Researchers envision these robots being controlled much the same way drones are, only in a dismounted environment. The machines could be used by soldiers, Marines and special operators to control perimeters, clear rooms, recover casualties and eventually perform combat maneuvers.

DARPA has requested $7 million for fiscal year 2013 that will fund investigation into issues dealing with power, locomotion, perception and control of these robots. It also would pay for initial development of algorithms that would lead to a bidirectional controller between a human user and a robot.

“In order to demonstrate the utility of bipedal machines on real missions and accelerate their development, the synergistic partnership between machine and operator must be leveraged,” budget documents state.

Industry is making strides in creating human-like robots. Boston Dynamics developed Petman to test chemical protection clothing. But unlike other test machines, it can balance itself and move about freely. A viral video of Petman shows the headless robot maintaining its stride after being shoved, as well as kneeling down and performing calisthenics.

Topics: Robotics, Armed Robots, Science and Engineering Technology

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