Future Warbot Powered by Xbox Controller

(Wired) – The military has long been interested in unmanned ground vehicles that can haul soldier equipment or scout perimeters. Equally important, the vehicles must be simple and intuitive to operate.

* By Nathan Hodge Email Author
* June 12, 2009 |
* 3:01 pm |
* Categories: Gadgets and Gear, Science!

Over at the Flash Blog, Lee Brimelow has an interesting scoop on how an XBox 360 interface was designed for the R-Gator, an unmanned vehicle prototype John Deere and iRobot first unveiled in 2004. Software firm T8DESIGN built the Adobe Integrated Runtime interface for the R-Gator; Brimelow has some images of how it looks on screen.

In addition to hauling gear or supplies, the R-Gator could also be used as a sentry. Brimelow says the vehicle could be equipped with a system called REDOWL, or Robot Enhanced Detection Outpost with Lasers, a sniper detection system that uses acoustic sensors and cameras to zero in on hostile gunfire.

The military has already opted for XBox and PlayStation-style controllers on robots like the PackBot, a small, portable robot that has already seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve tried out the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle, a next-generation version of PackBot, and it’s similarly easy to master the controls. Thousands of these smaller robots are already in the field.

Designing and controlling larger unmanned vehicles, however, is a somewhat trickier proposition. The military has experimented with the General Dynamics “Mobile Detection and Assessment and Response System,” or MDARS, a system that has been in the works since 1989. The U.S. Army has developed a six-wheeled robotic vehicle, Lockheed Martin’s MULE, as part of its Future Combat Systems program, but the future of FCS is uncertain following recent budget cuts. The R-Gator is more of an off-the-shelf solution: it’s based on the M-Gator, a golf-cart sized military utility vehicle.

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