| FORT HOOD, Texas, Jan. 28, 2005 – It looks like a robot from the movie, "Short Circuit" – a miniature Johnny 5 that rolls on four wheels and has a video camera lens for eyes.
It peers around doors and windows, carefully adjusts its height to survey the area, and rolls carefully towards suspicious-looking vehicles and objects. There it remains still, focusing on the suspected object, and waits for a signal from the operator to tell it where to go to next.
The Multi Function Agile Remote-Controlled Robot, or the MARCBOT, demonstrated its abilities to soldiers from the U.S. Army Operational Test Command Jan. 12 at the Fort Hood Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain site.
With only a little over an hour to have hands-on training to operate the robot, Operational Test Command's test players, who were soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry of the 4th Infantry Division, were ready to conduct a sweep in one of the urbanized terrain site buildings as though they were in the streets of Baghdad.
Capt. Michael Fitzgerald, the command's test officer from the Future Force Test Directorate in West Fort Hood, said that the MARCBOT is one of a platform of robots currently being used in Iraq to do surveillance and reconnaissance of improvised explosive devices.
Today's soldiers have had so much exposure to modern technology, such as playing with remote-controlled cars and operating video games, that it doesn't take long for them to adapt to the controls of the MARCBOT, he said.
"The Army has already fielded these robots to our soldiers in Iraq because of an urgent need," Fitzgerald says. "The robot has been helpful for our soldiers, but what we don't know right now are its full capabilities and limitations." Fitzgerald said that the data collected from Operational Test Command's assessment could determine whether the MARCBOT design will be redeveloped to add features that could be more helpful for our soldiers.
The MARCBOT resembles a large remote-controlled car one finds at the local toy store. It has a retractable arm, all-terrain wheels, and a wireless video camera attached to it. The soldier operates the robot with a remote-controlled operator with a monitor on the controller that allows the Soldier to see what the robot sees.
"Can the Soldier communicate with the robot at great distances? At what range? What are its limitations and what can be improved in the robot to benefit the Soldiers even more? These are some of the questions OTC will address during this assessment."
Fitzgerald says that arming and protecting every deployed soldier with the best equipment available is the Army's first and constant priority. "Testing or assessing the equipment's capabilities and limitations is Command's priority. We're the trusted agent for the soldiers in the Army."
The MARCBOT is made by Exponent Incorporated and costs around $5,000 each. The operational assessment costs virtually nothing for the Army except for the time invested in practicing and conducting the assessment at the urbanized terrain site, Fitzgerald added.