by DAVID AXE and JASON REICH
The platoon of Israeli soldiers surges through the city neighborhood, in pursuit of a heavily armed insurgent team. They’d been spotted just minutes earlier by an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle orbiting high overhead. Rounding a corner, the platoon runs into the kind of low-tech obstacle that has vexed armies for thousands of years. A wall, slightly too tall to see over.
The lieutenant in charge is worried. Insurgents might be waiting to ambush his soldiers as they climb over the wall. The UAV can’t get an angle on the area. Tall buildings block its line of sight. The officer needs some way to look over the wall without endangering his troops. He calls forward a four-man team.
The four troopers — two technicians and two guards — comprise the world’s first dedicated combat robot team. They represent a new way of thinking for the IDF, and for the many armies that carefully follow Israeli advances in the art of war.
With the two guards covering their backs, the two robot operators reach into their backpacks. They assemble a device that looks a lot like a baseball dangling from a fishing pole. The ball is actually a self-rotating robot. It’s equipped with tiny cameras, and can beam streaming video to a laptop computer that the lieutenant carries. The manufacturer, ODF Optronics, of Tel Aviv, calls the robot the EyeBall.
The operators raise their arms to extend the EyeBall over the wall until it dangles on the opposite side. The lieutenant logs onto his laptop, detects the EyeBall’s signal and tells the tiny robot to peer around. The officer sees everything the EyeBall sees. Confident that the insurgents are not plotting an ambush, he orders his men to climb the wall.
This scenario is fictional, but incidents like it have played out countless times in training and combat, in the last two years. EyeBall and its operators represent a make-over of Israeli forces that was spurred by humiliating defeats in Lebanon three years ago. The revamped Israeli Defense Forces combine high technology with no-nonsense tactics. The IDF’s new ways offer a tantalizing glimpse of future warfare.
(Photo: Jason Reich)