ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. (AP) – The rain is turning to snow on a blustery January morning, and all the men gathered in a parking lot here surely would prefer to be inside. But the weather couldn’t matter less to the robotic sharpshooter they are here to watch as it splashes through puddles, the barrel of its machine gun pointing the way like Pinocchio’s nose. The Army is preparing to send 18 of these remote-controlled robotic warriors to fight in Iraq beginning in March or April.
Made by a small Massachusetts company, the SWORDS, short for Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection Systems, will be the first armed robotic vehicles to see combat, years ahead of the larger Future Combat System vehicles currently under development by big defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics Corp.
It’s easy to humanize the SWORDS (a tendency robotics researchers say is only human) as it moves out of the flashy lobby of an office building and into the cold with nary a shiver.
Military officials like to compare the roughly three-foot-high robots favorably to human soldiers: They don’t need to be trained, fed or clothed. They can be boxed up and warehoused between wars. They never complain. And there are no letters to write home if they meet their demise in battle.