ROBOT soldiers manufactured to kill enemy troops have been designed for the Pentagon by a tiny Glasgow computer company which is set to make millions from the deal.
Essential Viewing says the technology comes straight from the world of science fiction. Chief executive Simon Hardy said the technology had its nearest equivalent in the Star Wars movie Attack Of The Clones.
In the film, armies of robots are able to fight running battles, making human casualties, for the side possessing the technology, a thing of the past.
The equipment refined by Essential Viewing will see robot vehicles equipped with an array of video cameras and weaponry. The images picked up by the robots will be instantaneously relayed back to military commanders who can then move the robot or order it to shoot at targets.
With current technology, which attempts to relay live video images between one side of the globe and the other, there is a significant delay – making it impossible for the military to use a robot “with vision” in the battlefield effectively.
However, with the Essential Viewing system there is effectively no delay: military commanders see exactly what the robot sees at exactly the same time.
“The transmission is truly live,” said Hardy. “Which means a person watching what the robot sees can make it interact with the environment around it. Using current technology, if a robot sees a target then the delay means that it is impossible for the military commander to make the robot follow it accurately or target it properly.
“With our technology, it is as if the military commander is in the battlefield himself. Our company, which has just 15 guys in Glasgow, is the first to crack this technology and we are ahead of the world.
“Wars are becoming increasingly costly in political terms because of human casualties. Rising death tolls can even bring down governments. There has been a huge push to get technology to the stage where humans can be taken out of the frontline.
“Our technology means you can steer an unmanned tank, plane, boat or a robot on the frontline from a military base behind the lines or in another country. The intention is to create wars without humans. We are going in the direction of Stars Wars and Attack Of The Clones-style combat.”
The Glasgow technology has been designed under the US government’s $15 billion Future Combat System programme. Some of the research was conducted at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, which is managed by the arms company Lockheed Martin under the auspices of the Pentagon.
According to Hardy, there is “similar interest” from the Ministry of Defence in the work his company is conducting. Although he is unable to disclose details of the full value of the work as the technology is classified, it is thought to run into multi-millions of pounds.
“We are taking part in a revolution in warfare,” he said. “This could make war much less likely as regimes which threaten the allies may see this as a deterrent as allied armies will lose very few casualties.”
Essential Viewing’s technology has already been tested in the US by the military driving a robot around New York. Hardy said the robot looked like a multi-armed sophisticated bomb disposal vehicle, adding that the technology was down to “some very scary maths”.
“This is the product of years of research,” he said. “We’ve been working on this for six years and have no close competitors.”
Armed robot vehicles could be dropped out of planes and left to roam enemy territory to scout for targets which they could attack themselves or pin-point them with lasers for bomber planes to take out.
“This will allow the military to use robots to do almost anything that a human can do on the battlefield,” said Hardy. “But the benefit will be that there will be no humans there.”
Hardy joined the company in early September 2001, intending to use the technology to send live images to mobile phones – but then September 11 happened.
“The bottom dropped out of the entertainment market at that point,” says Hardy, “and the defence and security industries surged. We were able to switch our technology to a military application.”
The technology can also be used for law enforcement covert surveillance, recovering victims in natural disaster and tackling domestic terrorism.