For 10 sweltering days in mid-June, a small army of crawling, rolling, hopping and hovering robots invaded Ft. Benning, Georgia, a sprawling training post near the Alabama border. The occasion: the U.S. Army’s Robotics Rodeo, a competitive evaluation of the latest ground-combat robots.
The Robeo, as it’s affectionately known, is the third since 2009. The 2012 Robeo was the first to include competitions — “vignettes,” the organizers called them — in which robots went head-to-head on a mock battlefield. Alongide the vignettes, robot developers showed off their latest software and hardware in a shopping mall-style exhibit hall, part of the event co-hosted by the Army’s Manuever Battlelab; the Detroit-based Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center; and the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization.
Forty-four companies and five universities brought 74 technologies to the Robeo. These included upgraded versions of today’s ground ‘bots plus brand-new models preparing for their first deployments and even a few experimental ‘bots. Robot developers were encouraged to take chances with unproven designs.
The point was to be as open-minded as possible, according to Ed Davis from the Maneuver Battlelab, who channeled his inner Donald Rumsfeld. “Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know until we see it in action,” he said.