Warfare robotics back then and today


Prof. Ing. Peter Hubinský, PhD.
Institute of Robotics and Cybernetics (IRC), STUBA
Bratislava, Slovakia

Application of strong and at the same time obedient machines instead of humans in warfare had always been a big dream of every general. Bombing of Venice by the Austro-Hungarian army by unmanned hot-air balloons at the end of the 19th century is considered to be one of the first applications.


But a breakthrough in this area came with a remote-controlled boat unveiled by Nikola Tesla in 1898. Later, many similar constructions were introduced that flew, swam and rode on the ground and were used typically for the transport of explosives to the destination and their activation. The first to use such means in real battle was Germany during World War II – for example, remote-controlled self-destruction mini tanks Goliath or flying bombs V-1, released mainly to target England.

Nowadays, different kinds of robotic devices are used primarily to survey enemy territory, but increasingly they are also equipped with weapons systems. Those enable, for example, for an unmanned aircraft to attack ground targets. Increasingly, ground robots are equipped with firearms, and robotic boats and submarines can perform the same tasks, too. Robots can also be used for radio retransmission, demining, carrying supplies and transportation of the injured to safety.


Unmanned Ground Vehicle UGV operation on unpaved terrain

Unmanned Ground Vehicle UGV operation on unpaved terrain

Compared with conventional battle means with human crew, advantages are lower weight, smaller size and the possibility of increased mechanical load. Destruction of the device does not mean loss of human lives, and if an unmanned machine falls into enemy hands, there is no danger of the mission objectives disclosure or blackmail by holding hostages.

Unmanned aerial vehicles are equipped with more and more sophisticated sensors and they are becoming more autonomous, which increases their resistance to the loss of connection with headquarters. Until now, mainly individually deployed robots have been used, but there is more and more talk about coordinated group of different types of such combat devices. In this sense, we can anticipate a complete robotic army in the future. This, however, raises number of ethical questions with respect to creators’ and operators’ degree of responsibility in general, in potential civilian losses and others.



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