Biomimetic warfare

Hi-tech creepy-crawlies such as the robot spider could soon be helping US forces on the battlefield, thanks to work under way by UK defence technology giant BAE Systems.

Hi-tech creepy-crawlies such as the robot spider below could soon be helping US forces on the battlefield, thanks to work under way by UK defence technology giant BAE Systems.

BAE has signed a £19m ($38m) agreement with the US Army Research Laboratory to develop advanced robotic equipment that would improve military situational awareness by sending vital data back to commanders in the field.

As part of a programme to create new devices that could be deployed in the field in as little as three to five years’ time, researchers hope to create miniature systems based on ‘social’ creatures, such as spiders.

‘The plan is that these robots will be based on the organic principle of bees, or other social insects, so that together as a team, they can do more than one can. We are working on a number of different ways of moving these robots from the legged device [such as the spider robot] to devices that slither and indeed fly,’ said Guy Douglas, a BAE Systems spokesman.

The objective of the research is to create small robots that can operate in dangerous or inaccessible environments, and on complex terrain such as mountains and caves.

‘In terms of size, we already have devices that fit on the tip of your finger, to palm-sized devices like the spider, all the way to about a foot in size, depending on the tasks required of the robot,’ said Douglas.

To develop such robots, the researchers will also look at how to make the most of materials used for essential components onboard the robot, such as circuit boards and batteries, by making them integral parts of the device itself.

An animated video showing the proposed systems in action can be seen on YouTube by clicking here.