In late March, French Army trainees tested out Spot the robot dog's abilities on the battlefield. The well-known bright yellow four-legged robot scurried along in unison with the trainees as they carried out a series of drills and exercises.
The military tests were carried out over two days by the French military school École Militaire Inter-armes (EMIA) at Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan's military camp, as was first reported by French newspaper Ouest-France (in French).
The point of the drills was to gauge how well unarmed land robots functioned alongside humans, how quickly they operate, what their vulnerabilities are, and how aggressive they are, explained Gérard de Boisboissel, a Coëtquidan engineer.
De Boisboissel further explained to Ouest-France that the recent drills were led by four students of the academy, and involved three scenarios: An offensive action to take over a crossroads, a defensive action in night and day conditions, and urban combat.
21. Je déploie le robot pour reconnaitre OSCAR3.— Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan (@SaintCyrCoet) April 6, 2021
Retour en images sur l’exercice de recherche appliquée organisé les 30 et 31 mars par l’EMIA et le centre de recherche. Robotisation du champ de bataille : sensibiliser les élèves aux enjeux de demain. #CapaciTERRE #Robots pic.twitter.com/HiZ2BFOZPY
The team first carried out the scenarios without robots, then with them to see what impact they made.
And what did the students think?
All in all, they see their benefits in closed environments. For instance, the team said it felt safer when the robots did the recces. One of the students pointed out that without the robots, he was "shot" as he carried out a recce, but when they went ahead of him, he survived.
The downsides, they said, were that the robots slowed them down, and in a rather unuseful turn of events, Spot the robot dog's batteries died in the middle of combat, leading the team of four humans to carry it off the field. Not ideal, but then again humans help carry each other off battlefields, so why not robots?
All in all, it looks like a bit of a mixed bag of results when it comes to including robots in the field of war. That said, there's always room for improvement, and that's precisely why these trainings take place.