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US Army tests out robot-human buddy teams to spot hidden dangers

AR glasses connect soldiers with keen-eyed robot companions.

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This Army robot detects changes in the environment and relays that information back to a human soldier.
US Army

Everyone loves a good buddy story. The US Army is looking at pairing up robots and humans to work together to quickly assess dangers in the field. 

Scientists with the US Army Research Laboratory tested out a robo-teammates concept using an autonomous wheeled robot equipped with lidar sensors that let it monitor the area around it in 3D and in real time. The robot was paired with a human wearing augmented reality glasses. 

"As the robot patrolled the environment, it compared its current and previous readings to detect changes in the environment," the Army said in a release on Monday. "Those changes were then instantly displayed in the human's eyewear to determine whether the human could interpret the changes in the environment." 

These Army robots are equipped with lidar systems.

US Army

The Army Researcher Lab's Christopher Reardon is lead author of a paper published for the International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, which took place in July. Reardon said the system could be used to detect camouflaged enemy soldiers or IEDs (improvised explosive devices). 

The robo-teammates advances could potentially be integrated into mixed-reality systems already in development, such as augmented-reality goggles for soldiers.

"Incorporating mixed reality into soldiers' eye protection is inevitable," Reardon said. "This research aims to fill gaps by incorporating useful information from robot teammates into the soldier-worn visual augmentation ecosystem, while simultaneously making the robots better teammates to the soldier."