Technology

Watch: Is This Robot The Future For Military Dog Handlers?

Meet the world's first remote-deployable robotic military working dog that imitates the movements of an animal.

It can be challenging for new military gadgets to catch the attention of a captivated audience at DSEi. 

DSEi is the world's largest gathering of the military and defence community, a five-day conference at London's Excel Centre. 

In all directions, impressive inventions offer a glimpse into the future of warfare for militaries worldwide. There are new helicopters, underwater sea drones, the most sophisticated weaponry available anywhere in the world – all vying for the attention of the international military buyers the exhibition attracts.

However, one new bit of tech easily securing rows of onlookers this week is the Ghost Robotics V60 – a remote-deployable robot that imitates the movements of a military working dog.

The V60 could ring an end to the traditional duties of military dog handlers the world over. 

Manufactured by US tech firm Ghost Robotics, this eye-catching invention offers extensive military opportunities. Primarily, it can be used in situations that may be considered too dangerous for humans, such as recceing enemy positions or exploring explosive devices like IEDs.

But it also promises exciting telecommunication capabilities as the V60 can be kitted out with 5G data masts and positioned in the most remote regions on Earth, giving coverage to those locations. 

We caught up with Matthew D. Joyner, Ghost Robotics' consultant on the V60, at DSEi to find out more and see the robotic dog in action.   

Ghost Robotics V60 might one day bring an end to using animals in military operations.

The V60's full military capabilities are, according to Matthew D. Joyner, the consultant representing Ghost Robotics at DSEi, "in the realms of the possibilities of the imagination". 

While talking to us at a very popular with attendees demonstration, he said: "What you are looking at here is a quadruped unmanned ground vehicle. 

"Its military uses are surveillance, CBRN work, close and confined space surveillance, as well as other things it can handle payload up to 14 kilograms. 

"Its range, which is most important, is right around six-and-a-half miles, on a full charge walking. Weight, give or take, on the bigger dog is about 100 lbs. The little dog weighs about 20 lbs."

Military dogs and their highly trained handlers have been, for decades, a crucial element to all types of operations, ranging from humanitarian, peacekeeping and, more recently, active operations against the enemy in locations like Afghanistan.

But does the V60 offer a viable alternative to real working dogs in the field? According to Matthew, yes, it "absolutely" does. He told us:

"Kit like this can absolutely change the need for real dogs in military units. 

"There are two advantages. Number one, it's a lower cost over the lifecycle of the system because dogs are expensive to keep and train. 

"While it will never replace the companionship you get from a dog, or the comradery, the other advantage is if you do happen to lose your dog in the field, there is a big emotional tie to an actual dog versus this."

Realistically, how complex would it be to convert the training of military dog handlers to that of a more technical, robot operator role? And coupled with that, what would happen if the equipment required repairing in the field?

How easy would it be for servicemen and women to use the V60 on operations? Matt offered reassurances around the practicalities of its introduction, saying that the robot is straightforward to use. He said: 

"The V60 is completely field repairable, it is very simple to use. I could teach my 10-year-old to drive it in about five minutes."

And what of those other possibilities? Is it plausible to expect weapons to be mounted onto the robot, for instance, to then deploy forward and engage targets?

Matt would not be drawn into speculation on that. He told us that its future use in other military terms is up to the realms of a buyer's imagination.  

"But the main thing is we use it in the commercial network. They are looking at it for disaster relief efforts. So, if a cell network goes down, you can potentially use these to put up a new mesh network without towers.

"It's really cool. Its best characteristic is it's able to go over any terrain, for the most part. You are not restricted on stairs, hills. It basically acts and mimics a real dog. It works off biology, so it moves and learns to move like an actual living organism."

The system has begun military use via the US Department of Defense and could one day be in service closer to home.

But as to whether the V60 brings with it a possible end to the use of animals in British Army dog handling units... well, only time will tell. If Matthew's enthusiasm is anything to go by, though, it just might become a reality. The robotic military dogs of the future are no longer puppies in training.