They Rode In With Combat Bots

Troops are testing a robot that can scope out the danger around corners.

By Susan Kruglinski
Nov 25, 2004 6:00 AMNov 12, 2019 5:40 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

It is no secret that American troops in Iraq routinely use unmanned air vehicles—flying robots, in essence—in reconnaissance and combat missions. Far less well known are robots that operate on the ground, including a new one that can look for danger around corners or in areas under heavy fire and can be carried around in a soldier’s backpack.

The robot is known as a Dragon Runner and was designed by Hagen Schempf of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. The device, which is currently undergoing classified tests in Iraq, is about the size and weight of a house cat and, like a feline, is designed to always land on its feet. It can be tossed through a glass window three stories up and hit the ground running, upside down, or down side up, at more than 20 miles per hour.

A handheld controller, which lets soldiers remotely send Dragon Runner out as an advance scout, vibrates when the robot’s motion or audio sensors are triggered. An onboard color video camera with infrared illumination can function with nothing more than moonlight.

A larger, somewhat simpler device, called PackBot, is already in use in Iraq and Afghanistan; scores of other military robots are now under development. “But there’s nothing like Dragon Runner in terms of its combined features,” Schempf says. Dragon Runner also has a fairly low price tag: So far, its entire development program has cost less than $3 million.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.