Imagine a robot that you’d want to use in combat. Like the U.S. Army, you probably first chose a bulky robot that looks like a mini-tank. Sporting heavy machine guns and other high caliber weaponry, these robots often become fire support assets to soldiers.
But, smaller might actually be a better option for future robot allies. In trial runs of robot candidates for field deployment, soldiers preferred tiny, pocket sized recon bots over tracked ground robots.
The trials were part of the Pacific Manned-Unmanned Initiative (PACMAN I). Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division controlled air and land drones to determine which ones were ready to be part of their formations.
One of the drones the group tested was the PD-100 Black Hornet, a mini drone sporting a camera for short reconnaissance missions. Silent enough not to be heard when in the air, the palm-sized robot has steerable cameras, weighs just 18.25 grams (less than an ounce) and can be set up in three to five minutes.
It has a range of up to 2.4 km (1.5 mi) and a flight time of 25 minutes. It comes with a backpack charger, allowing soldiers to charge one while another is flying.
“That was a system that we could actually take right now…on the battlefield,” says Staff Sergeant James Roe to Breaking Defense. “Some of these other systems, as with any electronics and robotics, there are some things that have to be worked out.”
One of the systems that needed tweaking was MUTT, the Multipurpose Unmanned Tactical Transport. An unmanned ground vehicle, it is tracked and sports a .50 caliber machine gun. While it was good at carrying heavy equipment and providing fire, soldiers did take issue with its speed and lack of maneuverability in the environs of the Pacific.