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A Gladiator Tactical Unmanned Ground Vehicle

An unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) is a vehicle that operates while in contact with the ground and without an onboard human presence. UGVs can be used for many applications where it may be inconvenient, dangerous, or impossible to have a human operator present. Generally, the vehicle will have a set of sensors to observe the environment, and will either autonomously make decisions about its behavior or pass the information to a human operator at a different location who will control the vehicle through teleoperation.

The UGV is the land-based counterpart to unmanned aerial vehicles and remotely operated underwater vehicles. Unmanned robotics are being actively developed for both civilian and military use to perform a variety of dull, dirty, and dangerous activities.


In their 1930s, the USSR developed Teletanks, a machine gun-armed tank remotely controlled by radio from another tank. These were used in the Winter War (1939-1940 ) against Finland and at the start of the Eastern Front after Germany invaded the USSR in 1941. During World War II, the British developed a radio control version of their Matilda II infantry tank in 1941. Known as "Black Prince", it would have been used for drawing the fire of concealed anti-tank guns, or for demolition missions. Due to the costs of converting the transmission system of the tank to Wilson type gearboxes, an order for 60 tanks was cancelled.[1]

From 1942, the Germans used the Goliath tracked mine for remote demolition work. The Goliath was a small tracked vehicle carrying 60 kg of explosive charge directed through a control cable. Their inspiration was a miniature French tracked vehicle found after France was defeated in 1940. The combination of cost, low speed, reliance on a cable for control, and poor protection against weapons meant it was not considered a success.



There are two classes of unmanned ground vehicles: Remote-Operated and Autonomous.


Guardium used by the Israel Defense Forces to operate as part of the border security operations

A remote-operated UGV is a vehicle that is controlled by a human operator via a communications link. All actions are determined by the operator based upon either direct visual observation or remote use of sensors such as digital video cameras. A basic example of the principles of remote-operation would be a toy remote control car.


There are a wide variety of remote-operated UGVs in use today. Predominantly these vehicle are used to replace humans in hazardous situations. Examples are explosives and bomb disabling vehicles. According to Carafano & Gudgel, robots have disarmed over 1000 roadside bombs in Iraq at the end of 2005 (2007). The importance of this is apparent since the amount of UGVs in use has shot up from 150 in 2004, to 5000 in 2005 (Carafano & Gudgel, 2007). Currently, UGVs are also being used in Japan repairing nuclear reactors that are still emitting too much radiation to warrant a human presence.

UGVs are also being developed for peacekeeping operations, ground surveillance, gatekeeper/checkpoint operations, urban street presence, and to enhance police and military raids in urban settings. UGVs can "draw first fire" from insurgents - reducing military and police casualties. Furthermore, UGVs are now being used in rescue and recovery missions. These robots were paramount following 9/11, when searching for survivors at Ground Zero.


Foster-Miller TALON SWORDS units (military robot) equipped with various weaponry.

Specific UGV Systems Information

Some examples of remote-operated UGV technology are:


A US Army Multifunctional Utility/Logistics and Equipment (MULE)

A quadruped robot is being developed as a mule that can traverse difficult terrain.

An autonomous UGV is essentially an autonomous robot that operates without the need for a human controller. The vehicle uses its sensors to develop some limited understanding of the environment, which is then used by control algorithms to determine the next action to take in the context of a human provided mission goal. This fully eliminates the need for any human to watch over the menial tasks that the UGV is completing. A fully autonomous robot may have the ability to:

  • Collect information about the environment, such as building maps of building interiors.
  • Detect objects of interest such as people and vehicles.
  • Travel between waypoints without human navigation assistance.
  • Work for extended durations without human intervention.
  • Avoid situations that are harmful to people, property or itself, unless those are part of its design specifications
  • Disarm, or remove explosives.
  • Repair itself without outside assistance.

A robot may also be able to learn autonomously. Autonomous learning includes the ability to:

  • Learn or gain new capabilities without outside assistance.
  • Adjust strategies based on the surroundings.
  • Adapt to surroundings without outside assistance.
  • Develop a sense of ethics regarding mission goals.

Autonomous robots still require regular maintenance, as with all machines.

One of the most crucial aspects to consider when developing armed autonomous machines, is the distinction between combatants and civilians. If done incorrectly, the robots deployment can be detrimental. This is particularly true in the modern era, when combatants often intentionally disguise themselves as civilians to avoid detection. Even if a robot maintained 99% accuracy, the number of civilian lives lost can still be catastrophic. Due to this, it is unlikely that any fully autonomous machines will be sent into battle armed, at least until a satisfactory solution can be developed. Some examples of autonomous UGV technology are:


The PackBot

The PackBot is one example of a UGV, first used in early 2004. Originally designed for space exploration, they were later adapted for military use. Today, a human using a controller operates the PackBot remotely, though the PackBot does have the capability to do a few things on its own, such as backtracking to its operator. Regardless, they are still extremely useful in exploring caves and buildings, as well as searching for enemies and weapon caches. The Packbot retains the capability to navigate obstacles on its own, a necessity when searching through caves and rubble. In addition, they are also capable of disarming bombs and discovering mines using a robotic arm and camera (Carafano & Gudgel, 2007). The Packbot has also been outfitted with a Hazmat Sensor that provides it with the capability to detect hazardous chemicals. Weighing in at 40 pounds, it is a smaller version of The Warrior. Due to this, soldiers can carry the Packbot in a backpack and deploy them when necessary. Following the nuclear disaster that occurred in Japan, the Packbot is now being used to excavate and repair the reactors due the to the fact that the radiation is too great for humans to bear.


SARGE is based on a 4-wheel drive all terrain vehicle; the frame of the Yamaha Breeze. Currently, the objective is to provide each infantry battalion with up to eight SARGE units (Singer, 2009b). The SARGE robot is primarily used for remote surveillance; sent ahead of the infantry to investigate potential ambushes.


The Gladiator is a small to medium sized system, designed to reduce risks to the marine corps. Like the SARGE, its primary function is scouting. But unlike the SARGE, it is capable of deploying direct-fire weapons. Moreover, the Gladiator also provides crowd control weaponry, which is necessary for some situations. In 2007, roughly 200 units were delivered to the marines and have been widely used ever since (Singer, 2009a). The Gladiator was designed to be as rugged and durable as possible, and ultimately intended to replace human soldiers. The Gladiator was the world's first armed Unmanned Ground Vehicle.

The Warrior

A new model of the PackBot was also produced, known as the Warrior. It is over five times the size of a PackBot, can travel at speeds of up to 15 mph, and is the first variation of a PackBot capable of carrying a weapon (Singer, 2009a). Like the Packbot, they are instrumental in checking for explosives. They are capable of carrying 68 kilograms, and travelling at 8 MPH. The Warrior is priced at nearly 400,000 and more than 5000 units have already been delivered worldwide.

The Talon

The Talon is primarily used for bomb disposal, and was incorporated with the ability to be waterproof at 100 ft so that it can search the seas for explosives as well. The Talon was first used in 2000, and over 3,000 units have been distributed world-wide. By 2004, The Talon had been used in over 20,000 separate missions. These missions largely consisted of situations deemed to be too dangerous for humans (Carafano & Gudgel, 2007). These can include entering booby-trapped caves, searching for IEDs, or simply scouting a red combat zone. The Talon is one of the fastest Unmanned Ground Vehicles on the market, easily keeping pace with a running soldier. It can operate for 7 days off of one charge, and is even capable of climbing stairs. This robot was used at Ground Zero during the recovery mission. Like its peers, the Talon was designed to be incredibly durable. According to reports, one unit fell off of a bridge into a river and the soldiers simply turned on the control unit and drove it out of the river.

Swords Robot

Shortly after the release of the Warrior, the SWORDS robot was designed and deployed. It is a Talon robot with an attached weapon system. SWORDS is capable of mounting any weapon weighing less than 300 pounds.[4] In a matter of seconds, the user can fit weapons such as a grenade launcher, rocket launcher, or 0.50 inch (12.7 mm) machine gun. Moreover, the SWORDS can use their weapons with extreme precision, hitting the bull’s-eye of a target 70/70 times.[5] These robots are capable of withstanding a lot of damage, including multiple 0.50 inch bullets, or a fall from a helicopter onto concrete.[6] In addition, the SWORDS robot is even capable of making its way through virtually any terrain, including underwater.[4] In 2004, only four SWORDS units were in existence although 18 were requested for service overseas. It was named as one of the worlds most amazing inventions by Time Magazine in 2004. The US Army deployed three to Iraq in 2007 but then cancelled support of the project.

Small Unit Mobility Enhancement Technology (SUMET)

The SUMET system is a platform and hardware independent, low-cost electro-optical perception, localization, and autonomy package developed to convert a traditional vehicle into a UGV. It performs various autonomous logistics maneuvers in austere/harsh off-road environments, without dependence on a human operator or on GPS. The SUMET system has been deployed on several different tactical and commercial platforms and is open, modular, scalable and extensible.

See also


  1. Fletcher Matilda Infantry Tank 1938–45 (New Vanguard 8). Oxford: Osprey Publishing p40
  4. 4.0 4.1 Singer, 2009a
  5. Singer, 2009b
  6. Singer, 2009b,
  • Carafano, J., & Gudgel, A. (2007). The Pentagon’s robots: Arming the future [Electronic version]. Backgrounder 2093, 1-6.
  • Singer, P. (2009a). Military robots and the laws of war [Electronic version]. The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society, 23, 25-45.
  • Singer, P. (2009b). Wired for war: The robotics revolution and conflict in the 21st century. New York: Penguin Group.

External links

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