IDF reserves organization Brothers in Arms has purchased three robot dogs for the army, which they say will collect life-saving intelligence and "assist combat soldiers to operate optimally in the field."
Brothers in Arms declined to expand on the subject but it is safe to say that the organization, whose members are familiar with the combat conditions in Gaza, have coordinated their donation with the requirements of the soldiers in the field and the IDF authorities, in the purchase of the three Vision 60 robot dogs, manufactured by Ghost Robotics. The US company also manufactures the robot dogs for the US Army. Each dog costs $165,000.
Ghost Robotics robot dogs scout out areas above and below ground and are highly mobile and agile. The robots can climb piles of dirt, sand and bricks, walk through deep puddles and even float on their surface. In the event that they flip over, they are programmed to get back on their feet and continue the mission as if nothing had happened.
The robot dogs can operate underground and unlike other robot dogs that are remotely controlled, Ghost Robotics dogs are semi-autonomous and can control their own speed of movement and come to halt without human involvement. However, they do require continuous communication with their operator.
According to foreign sources, the robot dogs are equipped with various visual sensors that allow them to identify objects and people at night, or in poor visibility, as well as a device that enables the connection of off-the-shelf sensors, such as laser radar (lidar), allowing 3D mapping of the environment. Such features, it is believed, allow them to help locate explosive charges and save lives and prevent injury. Their stability in various situations such as stairs and sharp slopes is better than other caterpillar-driven robots that are already believed to be in IDF service. Estimates are that there are currently no plans to more widely equip the IDF with these robot dogs.
However, these robot dogs have some disadvantages. Their battery life is short - theoretically up to three hours but in practice sometimes only 90 minutes. It cannot carry more than 10 kilograms. The IDF Spokesperson declined to comment on this report.
More eyes and ears
Robot dogs have been in service with the US Army since 2020, mainly undertaking tasks like guarding and protecting military bases. US Air Force officers told the military news magazine "Task & Purpose" that robot dogs, "Represent more eyes and ears on the ground, with the ability to process information particularly rapidly in several strategic areas at the same time."
During one exercise conducted in Nevada, Ghost Robotics' robots fed targets into a war management intelligence system, and in another exercise conducted by the US Home Front Command unit in North Dakota, the robots simulated activity during a nuclear/biological/chemical attack. Ghost Robotics also demonstrated that its robot is capable of disposing of explosive devices, jointly with a company called Zero Point, which specializes in the production of systems to neutralize explosives.
Ghost Robotics CEO Jiren Parikh said in an interview two years ago, "Most of our customers use the robotic dog for intelligence missions, target acquisition, underground and surface scouting in difficult places, mapping, safety against explosive devices, deployment of wireless infrastructure and security of facilities and in fact for any use where they are required. These robots are better than those that move around on caterpillars or wheels."
The ethical question
Two years ago at a conference held in Washington, Ghost Robotics unveiled its robot dog armed with a submachine gun with an advanced optic sight, thermal camera for night vision, and an ability to shoot up to a range of 1,200 meters.
The robot dog with its firepower became the star of the conference, while the armed canine also stirred up public controversy. But any concern was premature. Two years have since passed and the robot dogs are still serving unarmed in the military forces that use them.
The event also aroused a dispute among robot manufacturers and in October, Boston Dynamics, the biggest and best known company in the field, launched a petition calling on all robot manufacturers not to arm their products but instead to focus on life-saving applications and maintaining peace. Boston Dynamics wrote, "Installing weapons on remote controlled or autonomous robots poses a new kind of danger to the public and raises moral questions.
Five other companies signed the petition set up by Boston Dynamics but Ghost Robotics was not among them.
Armed robots serving in military forces seems inevitable, when taking into account that non-democratic countries are moving in this direction. One Chinese defense company has already developed an armed UAV.
Ghost Robotics is a US company with 75 employees that has raised several million dollars to date. Last week it was acquired by Korean arms manufacturer LIX Nex 1 for $240 million.
Even its huge rival Boston Dynamics is controlled by Korean giant Hyundai, which acquired control two years ago at a company valuation of $1.1 billion.
There are certain similarities between Ghost Robotics robot dogs and those of Boston Dynamics, which sued Ghost for allegedly violating its IP, including 500 patents it either holds or has requested be registered in the field of robotics.
In response Ghost Robotics claims that its products originated at the University of Pennsylvania, under the supervision of a patent expert in four-footed robots, dating back to 2001. Ghost Robotics also claims that it is the biggest supplier of walking robots to the US government and its allies.
The military walking robot industry is divided between Korea and the US. Israel, a country with an extensive arms and robotics industry, currently has no companies working in the field of walking robots.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 14, 2023.
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