The USMC airbase at Twentynine Palms recently became the latest DoD facility to be guarded by robots:
The marines were encouraged by the fact that, since 2011, even a nuclear materials storage site out in the Nevada desert was guarded this way, decided to join in. Slowly, but inevitably, mobile robots (UGVs, or unmanned ground vehicles) are taking over guard duty. It’s become increasingly common for American high-value military bases to be patrolled by four wheeled, 1.6 ton MDARS robotic vehicles. With a top speed of 32 kilometers an hour and able to operate 16 hours without refueling, the vehicle contains radar (LIDAR) and 3-D visual sensors that enable it to avoid obstacles and identify whatever it encounters. One MDARS vehicle costing about $800,000 (depending on sensors installed) can do the work at half the cost of previous, non-mobile security systems. MDARS sensors and software can identify a variety of local animals (usually coyotes, deer or dogs) and birds it is likely to encounter within a rural facility. When it detects an unauthorized human, it alerts its human controller, who checks the real-time video feed and takes action. Current MDARS sensors can identify individuals 200 meters away. MDARS is unarmed, although it could easily be equipped with weapons. In the U.S. potential legal, media and political problems discourage this. But there’s much less opposition to unarmed vehicles. As sensors and autonomous driving technology keeps improving so does the effectiveness, value and acceptability of these vehicles.