by Tom Carroll
Ihave long been interested in military
weapons. The meanest, sneakiest,
most powerful, and most complex
weapons seemed to always attract my
attention. Adding robotics to these
types of weapon systems makes it just
that much more appealing to me.
Military robots — ground, sea,
and air versions — have made the
conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan safer
and more efficient for our troops. The
Military Channel and History Channel’s
Future Weapons make it clear that
new military technology is rapidly
moving ahead, despite the economy.
Let’s look at a few of the older and
newer robotic weapon systems.
had poor ground clearance, and was
vulnerable to anti-tank weapons or
even rifle fire due to thin armor. It was
also very expensive to produce for the
low success rate. Two 5 k W Bosch
electric motors and an internal 13. 6
HP gas motor/generator system were
contained in the two foot high
tracked mine. They were deployed in
Italy in 1943 and later in Normandy.
Commander H.R. (Bart) Everett,
now retired from the Space and Naval
Warfare Systems Center, San Diego,
CA, has long been involved with
robots, even as a kid. One of the
robots that he was involved with back
in the mid ‘80s was the Prowler.
Prowler stood for ‘Programmable
Robot Observer With Logical Enemy
Response — a typical acronym where
a project team comes up with a
nice-sounding name for the project
then has to find a string of words that
fit with the key word.
The Prowler was the first outdoor
The name Goliath instantly drums
up visions of something large. The
Goliath self-propelled mine developed
in WW II by the Germans was one of
the most unique and ingenious
weapons of war ever created.
Weighing in at over 800 pounds and
almost five feet long, the ‘demolition
charge carrier’ contained over 130
pounds of TNT. There were several
variations such as a gas engine only
powered unit and a
gas/generator/motor version. Figure 1
(taken by Black Dragon Leather at the
Aberdeen US Army Ordnance
Museum) shows the distinctive
German tank tread style.
Controlled by a trailing cable
connected to a control panel, the
remotely-guided anti-tank/anti-personnel mine was a slow 6 MPH,
78 SERVO 01.2009
Many say Nikola Tesla built the first true robot. His ‘wireless torpedo”
was designed to make it into a weapon of war that removed people from the
Tesla’s idea was to have nations stop building battleships that shell each
other across miles of open sea, and instead use these unmanned undersea craft
to duel with each other to a win or draw. Figure A shows the unique,
iron-hulled “robot boat”.
His invention, as many later historians would say, “was the birth of
robotics.” Tesla’s own description of the robot boat was “In fact, it is simply
an enlarged torpedo shell, thirty-six and a half feet long, loaded with other
torpedoes to discharge. Like a torpedo, also, it has its own propelling device.
But here the likeness stops. The ordinary torpedo, once launched, plunges head
on blindly and no known power can turn it one way or another. It hits or misses,
according to the trueness with which it is aimed at its launching.”
A patent titled “Method of and Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of
Moving Vessels or Vehicles,” No.
613,809, was granted to Tesla
FIGURE A. Tesla’s robot boat.
shortly after a demonstration for the
Navy. These torpedoes were not
true submarines as there were no
diving planes to counteract the
slight positive buoyancy, so they
were more of a surface operating
torpedo with a detonator in