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All byte, no bark for 'robotic K-9'

Airman watch robot dog demonstration

Airmen assigned to the 375th Security Forces Squadron function check the Ghost Robotics Vision 60 semi-autonomous robot dog before a demonstration at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Dec 14, 2020. The robot dog utilizes an adaptive communication system allowing the machine to operate on a series of preset commands or when operated manually. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Shannon Moorehead)

Robot dog stands

The Ghost Robotics Vision 60 semi-autonomous robot dog participates in a demonstration at the 375th Security Forces Squadron at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Dec. 14, 2020. The robot dog is equipped with integrated sensors and can capture a high definition video stream, thermal imaging and boasts an infrared configuration. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Shannon Moorehead)

Airman looks at robot dog

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Carmen Pontello, 375th Security Forces Squadron military working dog trainer, and Hammer, 375th SFS military working dog, patrols through the Base Exchange with the Ghost Robotics Vision 60 at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Dec. 17, 2020. The 375th SFS conducted a field test of the Vision 60 to compare its capabilities to a military working dog. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Shannon Moorehead)

Robot dog and K-9 stand together

Hammer, 375th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, sits next to the Ghost Robotics Vision 60 at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Dec. 17 2020. The Vision 60 robot’s ultimate capability is to preserve life. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Shannon Moorehead)

Robot dog and K-9 stand together

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Carmen Pontello, 375th Security Forces Squadron military working dog trainer, introduces Hammer, 375th SFS military working dog, to the Ghost Robotics Vision 60 at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Dec. 17, 2020. The Vision 60 resembles a K-9, but is not designed to replace MWDs. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Shannon Moorehead)

375th AMW commander looks at robot dog

U.S. Air Force Col. J. Scot Heathman, 375th Air Mobility Wing commander, examines a Ghost Robotics Vision 60 during a demonstration at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Dec. 14, 2020. The robot dog is capable of covering seven feet per second and an estimated range of 7.5 miles. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Shannon Moorehead)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- As a part of its one-year pilot program, the Ghost Robotics Vision 60 visited Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, during an evaluation of the robot’s capabilities. 

Heading the test was Air Combat Command’s Agile Battle Lab. The lab identifies, validates and inserts new concepts and technology to enable Agile Combat Employment and its contributions to all-domain warfare. 

The Vision 60 autonomous quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicle is an all-terrain, dog-like robot equipped with enhanced sensors.

“By no means is this meant to replace a real K-9,” said Senior Master Sgt. Marcos Garcia, ACC Detachment 3 Agile Battle Lab, Air Mobility Command liaison. “It is simply a force multiplier and can even maybe save some K-9 lives. The experts in the field envision it supplementing a bomb team or leading a foot patrol.”

This innovative piece of machinery was created to be a low-cost, low-risk force multiplier. Ultimately, this program has the capability of protecting a life. 

“The major selling point of this technology is that it’s meant to be expendable, whereas our Airmen are not,” said Master Sgt. Justin Hanlon, 375th Security Forces Squadron operations noncommissioned officer in charge. “We can replace parts on the ghost robot and get it back out to the mission, but the same cannot be said of a human being. The bottom line is this cements our commitment to mitigating risk to our Airmen and protecting them from unnecessary danger.”

Equipped with integrated sensors, the Q-UGV can capture a high-definition video stream and thermal imaging, and boasts an infrared configuration. The Q-UGV also utilizes legs that can attain a current speed of seven feet per second and has been tested to outperform wheels, tracks and drones for certain uses in the field.

“Instead of using a human being as a sentry, imagine a mobile sensor with a high-definition, wide-angle camera and long-range capabilities being controlled by a trained Airman from the safety and security of a Base Defense Operations Center or a Theatre Operations Center in both a garrison or contested environment,” said Hanlon.

During the evaluation at Scott AFB, the ABL sought the insight of force professionals on improvements to the robotic K-9.

“We are a team of motivated innovators and know we have many talented Airmen with great ideas,” said Garcia. “We want to harvest those great ideas and bring them to fruition so we can bring our Air Force into the future.”

While the implementation of this technology is still in its infancy, it has the latent ability to bring the Air Force into a new era of warfighting. 

“The ghost robot has potential to aid the enterprise in getting away from the past where we had Airmen walk wingtip to wingtip on flying assets,” said Hanlon. “We can employ our manpower smarter and more efficiently and this may be a small step to that competency.”

As the Air Force looks to close gaps and move towards Agile Combat Employment and Joint All Domain Command and Control, the use of new innovative technology like the Q-UGV may become common across military installations as we seek to enhance mission effectiveness.