Space Force to use robotic dogs at Cape Canaveral base


Dogs have been part of military forces since ancient times and are said to have traveled alongside Greek and Roman soldiers.

This tradition continues at Space Force Station Cape Canaveral. But in keeping with the facility’s high-tech mission, these dogs are powered by electricity, not the Alpo.

Yes, robot dogs are coming to the Space Coast.

Two “quadruped unmanned ground vehicles,” as manufacturer Ghost Robotics calls them, demonstrated their capabilities during installation late last month.

Among the ways the robots could be used in Cape Town are security patrols, responding to launch incidents and augmenting the small team that weathers hurricanes at the facility.

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“The Q-UGV effectively demonstrates how manual and repetitive tasks can be automated using ground-based robots,” the Space Force said in a statement. “Whether it’s a security incident or persistent security operations, our staff can deploy the robot, assess a scenario, and provide Guards and Airmen with greater situational awareness and decision-making advantage. Everything protecting staff from personal risk.”

It is not yet known when the dogs could be deployed here.

These aren’t the army’s first robot dogs: four were deployed to Tyndall Air Force Base in the Panhandle last year. Cape Canaveral becomes the eighth base to use robot dogs.

The Department of Homeland Security announced in February that it was deploying robot dogs to help patrol border regions in the American Southwest.

“The southern border can be an inhospitable place for man and beast, and that’s exactly why a machine can excel there,” said DHS spokeswoman Brenda Long.

Ghost Robotics has made more than 250 robots so far, with Air Force and Special Forces units the primary users, said CEO Gavin Kenneally, who co-founded the company while a doctoral student. at the University of Pennsylvania.

“We are the number one seller of legged robots in government markets. Kenneally said. “We have sold a lot to the United States, but also to other allied countries. We have sold to Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Korea, Singapore and Japan, really all over the world at many other allied governments.”

Each robot costs around $150,000 depending on how personalized it is for each buyer. Each is capable of handling a variety of payloads such as biological, chemical or radiological threat sensors.

The Air Force – and now the Space Force – have used the robots in security roles.

“So basically having robots increases the security capabilities of the base, in terms of walking perimeters, and doing various types of analysis, whether it’s, you know, audio or video or even attaching, you know, chemical, biological or nuclear threat detection sensors on the robots,” Kenneally said.

And unlike humans, time means little to robots. They can operate in temperatures as low as minus 40 and as high as 130 degrees Farenheit. They can be completely submerged under one meter of water for 30 minutes and still work.

Users can control the robots using special tablet computers with joysticks or they can be automated to perform repetitive tasks, such as patrolling a base perimeter.

The robots have a top speed of around 7 mph, which is about as fast as a recreational racer.

Robot dogs are having something of a moment lately.

Spot, a robot dog made by Boston Dynamics, is a YouTube sensation whose videos have received millions of views and was featured in the Washington Post last year.

One particularly memorable episode of the Netflix anthology series Black Mirror featured killer robot dogs relentlessly hunting down remaining humans in a post-apocalyptic world.

Kenneally said that when he launched the company in 2015 and told people what his plans were, they would mention the “Terminator” movies, which featured robots as killing machines.

“Yeah, I think it’s a bit of a shame that’s how the media chooses to show this stuff,” Kenneally said. “It’s always the kind of these robots that get out of control.”

In reality, he says, robots like his are simply productivity tools, like the computers that many people use every day.

“It’s basically a computer or a server that has legs and can walk around and, you know, move around the world. So it really doesn’t have… good or bad agency or anything like that” , said Kenneally. “You know, it’s a tool, just like a computer, just like a smartphone. But it happens to be able to be mobile and walk around.”

That said, it’s possible that robot dogs will take on combat roles in the future.

Last year, Ghost Robotics worked with small arms maker Sword International to develop a sniper rifle that could be deployed on robots.

None of the gun-equipped robots are used, Kenneally said. That said, the company continues to explore ways to arm the robots.

“We support the weaponization of these robots, but it’s very important to us that this is done through government partners,” Kenneally said. “Within the US government, we have several key partners, who are really helping us figure out, you know, how to do this the right way and have the armed robots really support our fighters, mainly on the special forces side. “

Among those who opposed the weaponization of robots was Daniel Koditschek, a Penn professor who was Kenneally’s mentor, who asked that any mention of him or his lab at Penn be removed from the website and the company promotional material.

“In part, my refusal to allow any further association with your company’s new leadership reflects my uncertainty as to when cheap, humanly compressible armed autonomous mobility will cross the line into violation of the international law of armed conflict,” he said. writes Koditschek in a letter to the company “In contrast, I am certain that this integration of firearms with the emerging agility and eventual ubiquity of small legged machines transgresses a crucial ethical barrier.”

Kenneally had a different take on the matter.

“The robot has no ability to somehow stray. It would be like your computer going rogue or something, which doesn’t really happen.”

A 25+ year veteran of FLORIDA TODAY, John McCarthy currently oversees the Space Team and Special Projects. Support quality local journalism by subscribing to FLORIDA TODAY. You can contact McCarthy at 321-752-5018 or [email protected]

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