Dozens of robots have already been ordered from the Israeli company ROBOTEAM, which has already supplied models to the IDF's counter-terror school for training. While the IDF's Engineering Corps have already been utilizing a reconnaissance robot for detection and identification of tunnels, this is the first time infantry brigades will operate such a tool. The robots are moving out of Special Forces units and into the wider IDF.
ROBOTEAM was founded by Yosi Wolf and Elad Levy, two veterans of IDF Special Forces Units. The MTGR, or "micro tactical ground robot," moves on two treads and is powered by two electric motors. Lithium batteries provide enough power for the robot to be operated for over two hours, which also has a microphone and five cameras that can be used in both day and night.
The video cameras give a 360-degree view, which provides the operator a clear picture of the robot's position while allowing him or her to react to a given situation quickly. The robot is able to travel at 3.5 km/hr, while carrying cargo up to 10 kg. The robot is also equipped with two arms that allow it to pick up and carry objects.
The camera lenses give the robot an appearance similar to a "mechanical ET" of sorts, while the bottom of the robot looks like a cross between a tank and a miniature D9 bulldozer. The US Department of Defense has already put in an order for 250 such machines, a contract worth an estimated $25 million, to deal with explosives.
The robot will reduce the risk posed to soldiers by "allowing friendly forces on the ground to know what is waiting around the corner and even further," said Maj. Ehud, the head of the robotics department within the Technology Division. "It operates alongside fighters and is capable of moving with them in the field, recording images day and night, listening, and provides important reconnaissance abilities in urban warfare. This is not a cheap tool, as it costs tens of thousands of dollars, because of the advanced technology.
"It is obvious that robots will have more jobs on the battlefield. However, operating robots on the ground is more complicated than say, an unmanned aircraft from afar, because on land there are more obstacles and uncertainties than there are in the sky. As such, it is important to emphasize that this is a robot, but one that is operated by a man. The robot does not make decisions alone, and everything it does is directed by its human operator.
"Before we go any further, we want to experiment first with this robot, get feedback from the soldiers using it, and gain experience operating and maintaining such tools in the field. We need to understand what exactly we can do in practice and the directions we can go in the future. We already have ideas about combat robots and we even have models. The MTGR can also fulfill other functions though, like carrying a certain amount of explosives in front of a group of soldiers, as opposed to one soldier carrying the explosives on his person, which endangers not only his life, but those of his comrades, as well."
At the IDF's counter-terror training school, training for the MTGR has already begun. Lieutenant Dana is the first head of Robotics and has already trained three instructors for operating the MTGR. "We get requests all the time from soldiers who have heard about the project and want be operators," she says.
Dana claims that technological expertise can help, but the operator is first and foremost a fighter, and that operation of the robot is no more complex than any other tool a fighter would need to operate. As with any fighter, physical fitness is a requirement however, as the robot itself weighs between seven and eight kilograms, and depending on its configuration and tools, carries a general weight of around 13 kg, which would need to be carried at times.
"The first operators are going to have a very important role, which also rests upon us in regards to their training," says Dana. "The robot provides new capabilities to the brigades using it. However, the commanders are not used to it yet, and have not used it in training or battle. As opposed to many other tools, the commander doesn't know much more than the operator using the robot. Therefore, there is already a large demand for the commanders to come, learn, and familiarize themselves with the robot. As is the case with any new tool, obviously the field will give us new ideas that we had not considered previously. We are only at the beginning of the robot era."