Army of Robots

India’s research and development in AI and robotics is still at an early stage

Palak Gupta

A fully automated machine warfare is not a possibility in the immediate future and robotics, undisputedly, is still in early stages. Yet despite its limited role, Artificial Intelligence (AI) or machine learning is already in the process of transforming the landscape of warfare.

Indian Army and border guarding forces continue to deploy substantive human resource on manning the military lines as well as the borders. With BEL-made robots, border management is likely to become less tedious, less human-intensive and more efficient

Experts envision that future wars will be fought with Autonomous Weapons Systems (AWS) which the US Department of Defense describes as “systems that function with minimal to no human intervention, selecting and engaging targets by themselves through pattern-recognition algorithms.”

In India, Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO’s) Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) is tasked with research and development in the domains of AI, robotics, command and control, networking, information and communication security.

Some of the applications of AI include assisting in evaluating the imagery and offering analysis. It enables the military assets on the ground to communicate with satellites in space, helps with gathering data, building data sets and identifying the patterns boosting the forces ability to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) operations.

With advancement, it is expected to evolve and play a more consolidated role in different domains of warfare: land, air, sea, cyber and space.


Robotics and Indian Military

The Bengaluru-based CAIR lab has been working on a team of robots named Multi Agent Robotics Framework (MARF) which have the capability to collaborate and carry out surveillance, exploration and mapping, search, and rescue, among other activities.

And as recently as in January 2020, two of CAIR robots were displayed at the DRDO pavilion at the 107th Indian Science Congress which was held from 3 January 2020-7 January 2020. Both MINI-UGV and Sentry are Autonomous Surveillance Robots. Even South Korea automatic sentry robot called SGR-1 against incoming threats in its demilitarized zone (DMZ) with North Korea.

DRDO says that the UGV platform can be configured for a myriad number of roles. Chemical, Biological, Radiological & Nuclear (CBRN) is one of the many roles of the UGV platform.

CBRN Mini UGV can be used for detection, sample collection and marking of CBRN contaminated (Chemical, Biological, Radiological & Nuclear) zones without running the risk of exposing men.

The Robot Sentry or RoboSen is a “mobile robot targeted at patrolling and surveillance applications in urban campuses”, according to a media report which quoted the DRDO publication available at the 104th session of the Indian Science Congress, held in 2017 in Tirupati.

DRDO is also working on what it calls the ‘snake’ robot. The snake robot with 14 active joints is capable of “lateral undulation, side winding, and rolling gaits.”

Indian military is using indigenously designed Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) for various purposes.

ROV Daksh: Indian defence services are presently using indigenously designed ROV Daksh for bomb disposal which were first inducted in 2012. Daksh, upgraded in 2015, has an X-ray vision which identifies a hazardous object and can also diffuse it with a jet of water.

According to DRDO, it can also be utilised to survey and monitor nuclear and chemical contamination levels. The ROV has stair climbing capabilities and can operate continuously for three hours. National Security Guard (NSG) operates a mini version of the Daksh. It also operates British origin ROVs for bomb disposal.

Confined Space Remotely Operated Vehicle (CSROV): Daksh Mini is a battery operated tracked vehicle with multiple degrees of freedom manipulator arm (telescopic arm) weighing not more than 100 kg. According to DRDO, it is capable of extracting suspected objects with telescopic manipulator arm.

Additionally, the Indian armed forces use several Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) for surveillance, Unmanned Ground Systems (UGS) guided bomb and missile systems, mini robotics, etc.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Netra: This mini UAV has been developed for surveillance applications. It is battery operated, silent and is equipped with a day camera with zoom for detailed surveillance. It also has an optional Thermal Imager for night operations.

UAVs in general are used to carry out reconnaissance. Sophisticated military drones like MQ-1B predator can loiter over enemy territory for over 14 hours and conduct high precision surveillance.

It was the targeted strike by American MQ-9 Reaper drone which had assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on 3 January 2020.

Several media reports, ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to India in February, had quoted an anonymous Indian government official as saying that India wants MQ-9 Reaper drone to take out her (India) targets “as it (drone) can quietly sneak in and kill its target without getting detected by radars.”

Unexploded Ordnance Handling Robot (UXOR): The UXO handling Robot (UXOR) is capable to handle, diffuse and detect Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) i.e. bombs and missiles up to 1,000 kg remotely from 1km LOS.

At the Aero India 2019, DRDO had unveiled a new platform designated the Mobile Autonomous Surveillance System (MASS).

In November 2019, the Indian Army announced the need to procure over 500 remotely operated vehicles called Robotics Surveillance Platforms to combat terrorists in built-up area and “avoid casualty to own troops during initial breach.”

India also uses ROV/underwater drone. The first commercial underwater drone, named EyeROV TUNA was developed by EyeROV Technologies, a company headquartered in the district of Ernakulam, Kerala.

The equipment can send real-time video/images of ships and other underwater structures to help with their repair and maintenance.


Robotics and Industry

Nearly two years ago, in 2018 British automobile company Rolls-Royce demonstrated the use of robotics to revolutionise the future of engine maintenance at the Farnborough International Airshow 2018. The exhibit featured wide-ranging technology from ‘snake’ robots that work their way through the engine like an endoscope, to miniature, collaborative ‘swarm’ robots that crawl through the insides of an engine. The technologies on display were at varying levels of maturity, and included:

Swarm Robots: A set of collaborative, miniature robots, each around 10mm in diameter which would be deposited in the centre of an engine via a ‘snake’ robot and would then perform a visual inspection of hard-to-reach areas by crawling through the engine. These robots would carry small cameras that provide a live video feedback to the operator allowing them to complete a rapid visual inspection of the engine without having to remove it from the aircraft. This project is a partnership between Rolls-Royce, Harvard University and University of Nottingham.

Inspect Robots: A network of ‘periscopes’ permanently embedded within the engine, enabling it to inspect itself using the periscope cameras to spot and report any maintenance requirements. These pencil-sized robots are thermally protected from the extreme heat generated within an engine and the visual data they create would be used alongside the millions of data points already generated by today’s engines as part of their Engine Health Monitoring systems.

Remote Bore Blending Robots: Teams from Rolls-Royce and the University of Nottingham have worked together to develop a robotic bore blending machine that can be remotely controlled by specialist engineers. In practice this means that complicated maintenance tasks, such as repairing damaged compressor blades using lasers to grind parts, could be completed by non-expert ‘local’ teams who would simply install the tool in the engine and then hand control of it over to a dedicated expert back in Rolls-Royce’s Aircraft Availability Centre who would then direct its work remotely. This removes the need for specialist teams to travel to the location of an aircraft needing maintenance, vastly reducing the time required to return it to service.

Flare: A pair of ‘snake’ robots which are flexible enough to travel through an engine, like an endoscope, before collaborating to carrying out patch repairs to damaged thermal barrier coatings. This project is a partnership between Rolls-Royce, University of Nottingham and Metallisation

Nutshell: Give the present circumstances, it is safe to establish that maximum number of countries have adopted near-autonomous systems as defensive approach to warfare. Major Kenneth Rose of the US Army and the Training Command had once remarked, “Machines do not get tired. They do not close their eyes. They do not hide under trees when it rains and they do not talk to their friends… A human’s attention to detail on guard duty drops dramatically in the first 30 minutes…Machines know no fear.”


Call us