Unmanned warplanes and mini-subs have rendered manned versions of the weapons obsolete in any high level conflict between peers-- and often-times in lesser battles as well. The robotic mini-subs have so far proved USAmerica's trump card against entities like Iran in the Persian Gulf, and China in Asia, which are largely equipped with obsolete late 20th century/early 21st century manned subs, purchased from Russian surplus, China, and similar sources.
-- "Bombs Away;
To Clear Explosives From The Seafloor You Have To Find Them First" by Jonathan Knight, San Francisco
New Scientist issue 13 June 1998, page 6
Autonomous robots might entirely replace human beings in actual combat presence by 2030.
-- Robots predicted to take over on the battlefield BY MICHAEL EVANS; FEBRUARY 08 2001; Times Newspapers Ltd.
Pilotless military aircraft consist both of various surveillance craft (used heavily by almost all players), and expensive, advanced war planes which tend to be used only for high risk/high value targets, or in certain rapid deployment missions where immediate remedy is required against formidable threats in the air. To put it into a 20th century military scenario, such advanced unmanned warplanes might have been immediately launched to Kuwait to help fend off Hussein's Iraqi invasion of the early 90s-- thereby possibly preventing altogether the occupation of Kuwait that followed in fact in the absence of such options.
Unmanned high altitude surveillance planes in perpetual flight could also serve as low cost substitutes for satellites
-- "The Dream of Eternal Flight Begins to Take Wing" By WARREN E. LEARY, 1-12-99, The New York Times
Military surveillance planes can be the size of small birds (micro air vehicles).
-- ScienceDaily -- Tiny Plane Brings UF Closer To Military Goal For Size And Cost by Aaron Hoover, http://www.sciencedaily.com//releases/1999/09/990923084436.htm, 9/24/99
Some pilotless warplanes can remain on continuous duty without refueling or resupply for as much as weeks at a time, due to advanced solar power, batteries, superconducting circuitry, and fuel cells. The most advanced weapons platforms now include a handful of prototype craft capable of electrical recharging via microwave beams shot from orbiting satellites, and certain types of armaments which may be resupplied via air-to-air transfers-- i.e., no landing ever necessary (except possibly for repairs).
The unmanned mini-subs may display an even greater length of continuous duty, ranging into months or even years-- and also boast rearmament-at-sea capacities.
|-- Monitoring Emerging Military Technologies ["http://www.fas.org/faspir/pir0295.html"], Volume 48. No. 1, Journal of the Federation of American Scientists January/February 1995; apparent author Steven Aftergood|
Small robots exhibiting some of the characteristics desirable for military forces already existed and were in use in various arenas around 2000.
One example was an on-person computer-in-a-belt which could be re-purposed by the wearer as a robotic snake for various probing and reconnaisance duties. Via of Northfield, Minnesota was the creator of the device.
|-- Slithery computer; New Scientist magazine, 24 June 2000|
Another robot was designed to serve as remote controlled artificial hands in a space environment.
|-- A Handy Robot NASA Designs Dexterous Robot For Future Missions By Bryson Hill; July 24, 2000 ABC News/The Associated Press|
Both remote-controlled and autonomous underwater robots were already being used by military and scientific concerns in 2000. The oil industry was a primary driver of development in the field.
|-- Robots open path to deep blue seas By Rachel Ross MSNBC, April 28, 2000; one possible contact DR. JUNKU YUH of the University of Hawaii; Stephan Williams of the University of Sydney, and the Australia Institute for Marine Sciences; the Australian National University|
Shape-shifting modular robots which could reconfigure themselves to better fit their circumstances into wheel, snake, or spider formats were being built in 2000.
|-- Fast forward by Kazuo Arima; New Scientist magazine, 27 May 2000; review of book Engines of Tomorrow by Robert Buderi, Simon & Schuster, $27.50, ISBNĘ0684839008|
Polymorphic robots are another term for shape-changers.
|-- A droid that can change shape; Author: Duncan Graham-Rowe; 10 MAY 2000; EurekAlert!; UK CONTACT - Claire Bowles, New Scientist Press Office, London email@example.com 44-20-7331-2751 US CONTACT - New Scientist Washington office firstname.lastname@example.org 202-452-1178|
Another modular, shape-shifting and self-reproducing robotics technology concept was fractal shape-changing robotics by Robodyne Cybernetics Ltd. in London (www.robodyne.com).
|-- The Shape of Robots to Come? By Otis Port and Heidi Dawley ; Business Week: January 25, 1999|
Caterpillar-like robotic arms with hands at both ends (Flexibots) which move about an area to perform tasks, or can be mounted on a handy surface, could serve many purposes.
|-- Armed and ready by Duncan Graham-Rowe; New Scientist magazine, 24 February 2001; contact: Mike Topping of Rehab Robotics in Staffordshire (Britain)|
Micro-machine robots are becoming the most useful scale of machine for many tasks. Japan was already making modular ant-sized machines in 1999.
|-- Ant-size robot sparks king-size ideas; MSNBC/ASSOCIATED PRESS; June 21, 1999|
One reason micro-machines are becoming so useful is that groups of them can perform relatively complex tasks with little or no communication amongst themselves, like ant or bee colonies often do. This is a form of distributed intelligence.
|-- Armies of brainless robots; Author: Duncan Graham-Rowe New Scientist issue 29th January 2000; 26 JANUARY 2000 EurekAlert!; US Contact: Claire Bowles email@example.com 44-0-207-331-2751 New Scientist; http://www.newscientist.com; Source: Robotics and Autonomous Systems (vol 30, p 85); videos available at http://www.cs.ualberta.ca/~kube/crip.cgi|
Robots which can repair themselves or reproduce to replace battle losses are also a useful military tool today. And the simpler each individual robot is (as described above for distributed intelligence designs), the easier it is to realize the concept (cheaper too). Much progress towards this goal may already have been achieved in the USA by 2000.
|-- Robotic System Can Design, Make Other Robots-Study; Yahoo!/Reuters; August 30, 2000|
Cheap micro-machine robots the size of small insects can be sprayed into a room or area like bullets, or dropped from aircraft. The particular circa 2000 DARPA supported project cited here boasts several unique features, such as suction feet allowing the robots to move vertically on walls and stairs. They are also to have an impressive array of sensors, and bot-to-bot communications. They will possess learning algorithyms too. Diamond coatings reduce friction and extend battery life.
A finished product from this project was due to be delivered to the Dept. of Defense in May of 2001.
|-- Robotics Team Goes "Micro" To Combat Crime, Aid Rescue Efforts; ScienceDaily Magazine; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/03/000303080559.htm; Source: Michigan State University (http://www.msu.edu); Date: 3/3/2000|
A different sort of distributed robotics includes a group of units which can be launched into buildings like grenades. Roughly the form factor of a toilet paper roll in 1999, each could bounce up stairs (jump) and roll about rooms, collecting audio and video information. This project was scheduled for completion in 2002 for the US military.
-- Spring-loaded spies by Yvonne Carts-Powell; New Scientist, 13 November 1999
-- What may be world's smallest mini-robot being developed at Sandia; 31 JANUARY 2001; EurekAlert!; Contact: Chris Burroughs firstname.lastname@example.org 505-844-0948 Sandia National Laboratories; http://www.sandia.gov/media/NewsRel/NR2001/minirobot.htm
Using robots for logistical pre-positioning and support minimizes what special forces personnel have to carry with them into dangerous territory. You send in the robot snake caravans first, maybe a few days or weeks ahead of time (depending on the underground distance they have to travel, among other things). Then, once they signal in position, soldiers move in, meet up with the snakes, pick up supplies and equipment, and carry out their mission above ground.
Such snakes can also perform some missions all on their own. Reconnaisance and sabotage, for example. In some cases they might not even have to emerge from underground, as they can monitor verbal and other communications from a few feet underneath tents or floors. Or explode underneath same.
Pursuit of self-evolving robotic designs would likely accelerate robotic development.
-- One Giant Leap for Machinekind? By USHA LEE MCFARLING; Los Angeles Times; August 31, 2000; http://www.latimes.com/news/science/science/20000831/t000081784.html
The US Navy is building solar powered robots based on the natural designs of scorpions. Mimicking biological designs this way is called biomimetics. The first test is scheduled to occur in the Mojave Desert in mid-2002, with the robot expected to traverse 50 miles on its own under harsh conditions.
-- Scorpion is model for new military robot By KELLY HEARN, United Press International; 7 March 2001
Small bug-like robots capable of moving half a mile without battery recharging have been built at Vanderbilt for DARPA. Piezoelectric ceramics are being used in place of motors. These materials are more energy efficient than DC motors, plus are much more scalable to smaller sizes. Their weight relative to alternatives does prevent them from being competitive in flying robots at this time.
-- Vanderbilt Engineers Build Robotic Bugs That Can Go The Distance; ScienceDaily Magazine; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/05/000501234641.htm; Source: Vanderbilt University (http://www.vanderbilt.edu), http://www.vanderbilt.edu/News/news/apr00/nr28c.html; 5/2/2000
Japan is developing robotic caterpillars for earthquake rescue and probing dangerous areas for nuclear or biochemical hazards. Its novel movement technique magnetically mimicks peristalsis, the muscular process by which food moves through the human digestive system.
-- Robotic Caterpillar Designed to Wriggle in Debris; Yahoo!/Reuters); November 7, 2001
Low cost, mass producible ultrasonic piezoelectric motors the size of a rice grain are in development, and could contribute much to military insect robotics.
-- Mini motor could change the shape of micromedical applications; 7-Nov-2001; Contact: A'ndrea Messer; email@example.com; 814-865-9481; Penn State
Some methods to increase the reliability and robustness of robot designs could be in substituting 'muscle' wires/springs for servos and gears in many instances, such as is being done with the BiRoD project -- Biomorphic Robot with Distributed power-- being developed for possible space exploration.
Muscle wires/springs are simple metal components which rearrange themselves when electrical current is applied to them. This helps the metal mimick the action of biological muscle tissue, and also greatly reduces the weight and internal complexity of the device. Dust and dirt is also less of a problem for these devices than more traditional machines
-- Simple Robot To Explore Planets, Moons And Asteroids; 25-Jun-1999; University Science; http://unisci.com