An armed combat robot operates beyond line of sight

There are no atheists in the burrows, but there can be robots. Shallow depressions, a static blanket dug out of necessity, have more to offer mechanical occupants than humans. In a video released on May 28, Estonian company Milrem Robotics shows its armed THeMIS platform operating from a shooting hole, maneuvering over trenches and firing at targets under the direction of human operators hidden outside. of view. This is a gradual development with implications extending far beyond the small earthworks complex in which it took place.

THeMIS looks like something halfway between a video game prop and an amateur toy. THeMIS is a crawler platform, just under 8 feet long, 6.5 feet wide and 3.5 feet high, that can carry a range of payloads. For the April 2019 demonstration in Tapa, Estonia, the THeMIS platform carried an ADDER DM remote weapons station armed with a 40mm automatic grenade launcher and a 12.7mm heavy machine gun .

The platform is remotely controlled, with humans able to operate it at a distance of 8,200 feet in open terrain or 3,300 feet in more urbanized areas. The controller is a tablet that shows operators a view through THeMIS ‘camera, adding information in a sort of heads-up display that scans familiarly to anyone who’s ever played a first-person shooter-style game. Electro-optical cameras and processing built into the weapon station can track one target or even multiple targets. The human operator can touch the tablet to instruct the robot to shoot at the indicated location.

“The operator can control the system from an ergonomically designed mobile or stationary crew station that is paired with a graphical user interface for intuitive workflow and task execution,” Milrem said in a statement. . “The system has dramatically reduced operator cognitive workload, reducing operator fatigue and improving combat performance. “

In a sense, “beyond the line of sight” operations for unmanned armed robots is old news. After all, remotely piloted and operated drones, like the retired Predator and the still-flying Reaper, are all about humans running machines they can’t see to hit targets based entirely on sensors carried by them. the vehicles. Still, the THeMIS is notable for the way it extends this capability to the ground and potentially to situations that do not require unchallenged airspace to operate. It also operates on a much smaller scale, with just one or two humans needed to operate the machine, and with those humans relatively close.

What is most worth observing is the extent to which targeting tools on board ranged weapon stations mounted on platforms such as THeMIS find and track targets on their own, and how they prompt human controllers to respond to these alerts. A robot in a foxhole that allows a human to take the time, assess the threat, and then fire second if needed is a different proposition from a robot that is automatically designed to fire first.

Watch THeMIS maneuver over foxholes and trenches below:

Kelsey Atherton blogs about military technology for C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain, Defense News and Military Times. Previously, he wrote for Popular Science and also created, solicited and edited content for a group blog on political science fiction and international security.