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Killer Robots

Updated on October 19, 2017

What if wars were fought by robots? What if automatons were weapons? It would be man's cunning that would determine the outcome of conflict not blood and guts. Human casualties would be minimal and more technologically advanced societies would have the upper hand. This, in itself, would discourage aggression as would-be combatants would think twice about incitement or threat. Putting aside the sci-fi scenarios of Terminator or Transformers, military powers see the development of killer robots as nothing less but a step forward and a way to save lives.

The ranks of battlefield robots are growing. By the year 2015, the U.S. Congress has mandated that a full one third of ground combat vehicles will be unmanned. The Department of Defense intends to rapidly develop numerous unmanned systems. And it's not just the United States. Around the world robotics researchers are making impressive progress and boosting the autonomy and sophistication of these robotic systems.

Most of us are familiar with the Predator drone. Predators are operated by humans sitting at a computer monitor in places like Creech Air Force base in Nevada. That's at least 8000 miles from Afghanistan and the Taliban. These cubicle military pilots are engaged in war without any physical risks to themselves.

Then there's the Army's "Flying Beer Keg". This gasoline-powered vehicle weighs less than 50 pounds when fueled. It is small enough to carry in a soldier's backpack. It is capable of vertical takeoff and can be deployed from anywhere. It's purpose is to provide surveillance in areas difficult to cover by standard surveillance methods. It has the ability to "hover and stare". Unfortunately, after being tested in Iraq, it was decided by the Pentagon that it was too loud to continue using.

But what about actual in combat armed robots? Much is being developed as we speak and not only in the United States. The U.S. Army has been working with an experimental robotic weapons system called the Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System. It mounts a remotely operated sniper rifle onto a turret and attaches it to a Vigilante unmanned helicopter. Though intended to be used for the urban battlefield, it was rumored to have been deployed in the standoff between the U.S. Navy and pirates off the coast of Somalia. It is also used by the U.S. Coast Guard to take out drug running boats - accurate enough to disable the boat's engine without harming the crew.

Then there is SWORDS which stands for Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System. The system consists of a weapons platform which is mounted on a Talon robot. The Talon robot has been around since 2000 and was used mostly for explosives detection. With some innovation, experts engineered a way to combine the weapons system with Talon. Weapons can be interchanged on it including the M16 and the 240, 249 or 50-caliber machine gun. And if you're not impressed yet, the M202-A1 with 6mm rocket launcher can be attached. The system is controlled remotely from up to 1000 meters distance.

Another combat-ready robot is referred to as MAARS. It stands for Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System. This versatile ground robot system is capable of performing several functions some more lethal than others. Just to scare people, MAARS' controller can project his voice through a loudspeaker mounted on it and also send out an eye-safe laser. If the situation requires a more serious response, MAARS can launch bean bags, blow smoke, use pepper spray or throw star clusters. If a lethal response is called for, this robot is set to deploy 40mm high-explosive grenades. It can also use the M240B medium machine gun which fires 7.62mm of ammunition. Because of multiple cameras, the operator is able to control the robot's actions with a clear view of the surroundings ensuring optimum effect and safety.

Not yet ready for prime time but well on its way is the Warrior X700. Developed by iRobot, the same company that introduced the harmless house cleaning Roomba, the Warrior X700 is far from cute. It will be capable of carrying 150 pounds with its arm and moving 500 pound payloads. Right now the Warrior travels about 8 mph but engineers are aiming to make it capable of a four minute mile. Designed not only to perform life-saving functions for the troops, this robot can fire a machine gun or 40mm explosive rounds at 16 rounds a second. Most interesting is engineers are working on developing software that will make the Warrior X700 not entirely dependent on remote operators but capable of performing some battlefield functions completely autonomously.

The Ethical Dilemma -

There is an ongoing debate over the ethics of unmanned military machines, though it is unlikely the technology will be abandoned soon. Robots armed for combat are devoid of human emotions. They are under the command of young soldiers thousands of miles away. Robots cannot make moral choices as soldiers in the field must do every day. If they are engineered to be more autonomous will they eventually see the atrocities of war and the insanity of trying to destroy each other? With over 48 countries in different stages of military robot development it is easy to imagine numerous scenarios and possible outcomes.

The Three Laws of Robotics -

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov created these rules -

1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2) A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except when such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First and Second Law.

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Do you think robots will eventually fight our wars?

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"Soldier,rest! thy warfare o'er, Dream of fighting fields no more: Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking, Morn of toll, nor night of waking." Walter Scott


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    • PHILLYDREAMER profile image

      Jose Velasquez 

      9 years ago from Lodi, New Jersey

      These weapons are a two edged sword as they can not distinguish a friend from a foe. They can just as easily be used by our enemies against us.

    • molometer profile image


      9 years ago from United Kingdom

      Very interesting hub, science fiction becomes science facts all too quickly, thanks for sharing. Voted up

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      9 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, suzie, on Dec. 6, at 11:17 a.m., cst

      This WAS, in my humble opinion, WONDERFUL! I loved hubs about this subject. Does the Military Channel on DirecTV know about your writing talent? I enjoyed this MORE than their narratives. Voted up and away. Keep up the nice work and Merry Christmas.

    • sfpodiatrist profile image


      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Absolutely- very scary!

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thank you all for reading and taking the time to comment.

      Sfp - Thanks for your kind words. I do believe they eventually develop robots who will think independently but like Cardissa said, it's a little scary.

    • sfpodiatrist profile image


      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Awesome Hub, Suzanne! I find it interesting that you have the ability to write ornate fictional stories as well as a technical article on the topic of robots! Have you written any wikipedia entries?

      In terms of this hub, I'll just throw some more wood on the fire. A good friend of mine was a neuroscience major and now holds a very high position with a bond trading company. He is responsible for designing the company's databases and gets paid about $500k/ year to do so. The reason he's so good is because he looks at the database base design process from the perspective of human perception. He seeks to undertand how data and ideas interact and this forms the basis of his design strategies.

      So recently he was telling about how a group of researchers have discovered how the human brain establishes contextual relevance which forms the basis of our reality. For example, when you walk into a room and see a table and a chair, your brain receives data input from your senses and formulates contextual relevance which allows you to assign meaning to the input data- a table and chair. Up till now, no computer in the world has been able to do this.

      But because of the discovery of these researchers, this will soon change. The computers being designed by these researchers will emulate the process humans use to "code" reality. They will, in essence, think like us. Food for thought.

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 

      9 years ago from England

      Very thought provoking! I was unaware just how far robotics had got to. Thankyou for sharing this

    • kingphilipIV profile image

      Ramphil Basco 

      9 years ago from Iloilo, Philippines

      This hub is so interesting to read.. killer robots catch my attention and I really love it.. :) Thanks for sharing..:)

    • PhoenixV profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      Wow this is the best article I ever saw on robots. I didnt know there was all these types of robots out there.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 

      9 years ago from Jamaica

      Wow, this is scary thinking about robots taking over human tasks.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Maralexa - I agree. Let's hope this new technology saves lives. Thanks for reading.

    • elucidator profile image


      9 years ago from SoCal

      Good article. I am surprised we are not farther along with use of robots, but this is all too amazing. I wonder about advances with robots "feeling" that their might come a time when robots are making decisions about who to kill or not kill?

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Pras - Robots are interesting to me too. Thanks for the thumbs up!

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Rong - Thanks for the input and for stopping by.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Kryptowrite - Never thought of that.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      9 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Great hub. In my opinion I think using robots to fight wars will never happen. The reason being that enemies and other terrorists will refuse to abide by an agreement to use robots to fight for them. I found your hub very interesting and packed with fascinating information. Voted up.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Hi Lilyfly - Nope, these are up to no good. Thanks for reading.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Quill - Nice to see you. Thank you so much.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Coolmon - Glad you enjoyed.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Lux - I really like the idea of a dance-off to solve disputes. Thanks for commenting.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thanks, Wayne - I believe the next generation will live to see changes we can only imagine. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Daffy Duck profile image

      Daffy Duck 

      9 years ago from Cornelius, Oregon

      As long as robots are built for recon missions and not for carrying weapons and going into battle, I'm good with that. I would approve of robots carrying explosives and remote detonated if the need arises, but that's where I would draw the line.

      The fact is robots are machines built by fallible humans. Something could go horribly wrong if they're built for any other reason. Even carrying a small explosive for self destruction can be dangerous. Something could go wrong and there's no substitute for a more "hands on" approach to combat. Technology is simply less reliable than humans (unfortunately).

      I would also have to say that I'd rather hear about thousands of machines being destroyed or having to be rebuilt instead of humans. It's much easier to fix or replace a machine. When humans get injured, some injuries can't be detected by doctors and can cripple someone just as easily as a physical wound.

    • Maralexa profile image

      Marilyn Alexander 

      9 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      Excellent article - just great. Obviously well-researched, as well.

      As a Canadian, I appreciate what the US does and does not do to protect itself and the rest of the world. I very much respect your government's decisions and choices even when I don't agree. I can not imagine being without the capability of the US and its systemic belief in doing what is right.

      I truly hope this new technology works to save lives and not just to encourage or defend the start of new wars.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      9 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Hi, Suzanne. I love this topic and I had watched "transformer 3" last night. Wow.... I can't imagine if the world filled with robot though it wasn't a new technology for us. We had apply robot in some industry and it help our job related with machine. But the real robot will coming soon. Maybe we can talk with robot and they'll be a friend one day. Just wait and see. I love the video and all description about robot. Good job, my friend. My vote always for you. Have a nice weekend!


    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      BP - I hate war and wish the politicians themselves would just duke it out. Thank you for stopping by.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Moira - Thank you for your excellent comment.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Thanks, Will Starr - you make me blush.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Kootheancheah - You are right, of course. I don't believe there will ever be a war without human casualties. Still.... Thanks for your great comment.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      SubRon - Thanks - some worry they could become too intelligent. Appreciate your comment.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Heinlein was more social sci-fi than "hard sci-fi". Asimov owns the Laws of Robotics, and has since "I, Robot". R. Daneel Steel is one of my all time favorite characters. Just re-read Heinlein's "Farnham's Freehold" for the Nth time! Good article!

    • kryptowrite profile image

      Rodney C Lawley 

      9 years ago from Southeastern United States

      Very well written. Too bad none of these gizmos will work once the sattelites are taken out.

    • lilyfly profile image

      Lillian K. Staats 

      9 years ago from Wasilla, Alaska

      Very, very interesting, but what about robot lovers? No, that would be a good use of ummm, robot-power! Great hub, lily

    • profile image

      "Quill Again" 

      9 years ago

      An interesting read and te research you have complied is an eye opener to what will be taking place in te world today...

      Blessings and Hugs

    • Coolmon2009 profile image


      9 years ago from Texas, USA

      It is interesting that in the near future congress wants a third of ground combat vehicles will be unmanned. Good article, I enjoyed reading it.

    • LuxmiH profile image

      Luxmih Eve-Lyn Forbes 

      9 years ago from Fort Pierce, Florida

      I have two sons in the USAF. Fortunately they are in areas of the service where neither one of them have had to use a weapon. In the olden days in Africa, before guns and Shaka (Zulu), the way 'war' was fought was to gather in the hills and have a dance-off. Whoever won the dance-off was the victor. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could have robots duke it out so that only machinery was involved? I know that it would put this mother's heart at rest.

    • Wayne Brown profile image

      Wayne Brown 

      9 years ago from Texas

      It is only natural that once unmanned aircraft came into being that other things would follow. America lost thousands of human beings in just hours at Normandy during WWII. We no longer have the stomach for such loss but do we have the stomach to inflict that type of loss on others who have no machines to fight? If robotics become so common, it is doubtful that we will keep a standing human army of combatants thus each robot will have to be able to consider the human factor in its decision process...not so far off of Star Wars anymore! Good article. WB

    • breakfastpop profile image


      9 years ago

      Outstanding piece. Frankly I love the idea of robots fighting wars., if it meant that innocent lives would be saved. On the other hand I imagine we would be at war almost constantly.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      SubRon - Thanks - I agree, as long as they don't become too autonomous.

    • moiragallaga profile image

      Moira Garcia Gallaga 

      9 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Very interesting hub on a highly relevant topic Suziecat. Well researched and informative. By the looks of things, robotics and its applications in warfare will continue to progress and is the next logical stage in the evolution of warfare.

      I have some reservations about this development. Setting aside scenarios akin to Terminator and robots taking over, a primary objective for utilization of these high tech weapons is to minimize combat casualties. Though some technologies are being developed in that it involves non-lethal applications or effects, a number of the robotic systems you describe and I believe are still in development consist of lethal weapon systems and delivery platforms. The downside to this is that once warfare for a particular country becomes less costly in terms of the casualties suffered due to the employment of these advanced systems, the tendency to resort to the extreme measure of employing violence to resolve global issues and conflicts becomes much more easy to do. One thing that makes countries and governments hesitate in employing the "final option" as opposed to diplomacy is the cost of lives when a particular punitive course of action is undertaken.

      Let us also remember that wars are not going to be conducted in a manner where the opposing sides line up all their robots and the winner is those who can eliminate all the other robots. The objective of war is to subjugate the enemy, incapacitate their ability to wage war or cause them to lose their stomach for the fight. This means that while robots will be employed, the targets of those robots won't be just simply other robots. The targets will be industrial and manufacturing bases to cripple the economic capability of the enemy, it will also be the enemy's leadership and their forces who control the enemy robots. In other words, the suffering, devastation and loss of life will still be there.

      If we make waging less costly in terms of human life as we will have robots do it for us, the more likely it becomes a more attractive option for States to pursue in protecting and advancing their national interest.

    • WillStarr profile image


      9 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I think it was Isaac Asimov who created the three laws of robotics.

      Asimov was one of my favorite authors as a kid, and now Suziecat is also one of my favorite authors, because her Hubs are always so outstanding!

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Drbj - It's interesting when you go to the iRobot website, they have a list of their newest military ground robots, etc. along with specs and (swallow) prices. Thank you so much for stopping by.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Waynet - Nice to see you. I agree that technology can only go so far. And in the wrong hands it could definitely go wrong. Thanks for your comment.

    • kootheancheah profile image


      9 years ago from Penang, Malaysia

      It's an interesting scenario you have painted here. So long as one nation is technologically superior to the other, it is difficult to imagine that war will cease immediately once the other country has been defeated "robotically". And moreover, a nation which has just been defeated without any human casualty will also not likely to give up so easily. Unless both nations can adhere strictly to the ground rules of this new war (which I doubt), a more damaging war may even be the probable end results...with the technologically superior country totally annihilating the defeated one to achieve its objective.

    • SubRon7 profile image

      James W. Nelson 

      9 years ago from eastern North Dakota

      Very interesting hub, Suziecat7, just so those machines don't become "self-aware," and forget all about those three rules posed by the great writer Isaac Izimov.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      It is interesting to speculate, susie, whether the next war will be fought entirely with robotics. 'Terminator' and company are becoming more powerful each day. Thanks for this amazing hub and these interesting videos.

    • waynet profile image

      Wayne Tully 

      9 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

      It's interesting to think that we can create robots that may fight wars in the future, but relying on technology to fight battles particularly in the Terminator movies just went bad, so in real life things could go bad too, there's always that chance. All there would have to be was a program error and some country is wiped off the map although I don't really believe computers and machines could become self aware like Skynet or anything, there still could be that possibility of a super computer so advanced that it thinks for itself and decides the world is better off cyber electronic or whatever....

      Interesting hub, I like watching this program called future weapons or something and some of these weapons are just amazing to think that technology has come this far...who knows what's next...hover boards and time machines?!

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Attikos - You are right. People become passionate for their cause and there is no stopping them. I read that the Libyan rebels were assembling their own versions of fighting robots using ordinary things. Thanks for reading.

    • suziecat7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Hi, Bob - thanks for being the first to comment. It was interesting to research for sure.

    • Attikos profile image


      9 years ago from East Cackalacky

      If I recall it correctly, it was Robert Heinlein who first wrote the law of robotics. Numerous science fiction writers have envisioned wars fought strictly by robot.

      The fatal flaw in that line of thought is that it fails to account for human nature. People will not stop battling for their cause when their machines have been defeated. They will keep struggling with whatever weapons they have as long as they can.

      Libya is a case in point. The western powers blithely assumed their overwhelming machine power would make for a splendid little war lasting "days, not weeks," to use Obama's by now infamous promise. Here it is over half a year later, and the fighting is still underway even though the Libyan government lost its own war machines within the first month.

    • diogenes profile image


      9 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Interesting info. No more fragging we imagine...Bob


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