The Pentagon’s Creepy, Wig-Wearing Robots Make Excellent Targets
RHTTs bum rush special operators
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
The downside to learning how to shoot at a handgun or rifle range is that, most of the time, the targets don’t move. In a firefight, real-life enemies do.
To add some extra realism to infantry combat training, the Pentagon has acquired from Australia’s Marathon Targets a small army of four-wheeled robots that have some eerie abilities — not to mention looks.
We’ve seen these Robotic Human-Type Targets, or RHTTs, occasionally appear on military ranges for the past several years. The idea is to deploy human-looking dummies that can “look, move, and behave like people,” with a degree of networked autonomy.
When one ’bot goes down in a hail of gunfire, the others can respond by heading for cover or regrouping for a counter-attack. No joystick required.
A Dec. 28, 2016 video from the U.S. Air Force’s 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico shows these robo-targets on the move while soldiers shoot at them. The machines roll toward the soldiers and zip from cover while moving laterally — making them harder to hit.
The GPS-equipped machines can travel at eight miles per hour, around the average jogging speed for a male. A laser guidance system helps them move around obstacles. Sensors can determine whether a shot is a “kill” or not, and the mannequins have enough armor to stop 7.62-millimeter rounds.
“So the training’s really cool. They have these big huge robots, sort of like Skynet from Terminator,” 1st Lt. Steven Hunter of the 27th Wing said.
“You can actually program scenarios into the robots, where you can do a hostage scenario where one of them in the middle is a hostage and you have to shoot the ones around them, and they’ll bum rush if that one gets shot.”
Here’s another view in animated gif form.
The fright wigs and printouts of human faces — well into the uncanny valley — also might make combat training a little bit hair-raising during the few seconds when the nightmare ‘bots roll toward you with their frozen, silent expressions.
But that just might be the point when training soldiers to react quickly to, well, threats.
The U.S. Army, Marine Corps and the Australian military has bought RHTTs. And soldiers seem to like them, particularly snipers as the machines make it easier to practice hitting moving targets.
Eerie thought — fast forward a few decades from now, and it’s possible to image target robots, wigs and all, with servomechanized legs.