It is comparable to playing a video game, even using a video game controller from a popular gaming system. Operators watch the screen and maneuver a robot through dangerous terrain in search of ammunition, with no reset button if it explodes.
While the benefits of gaming skills are sometimes questioned by different generations, the South Carolina National Guard demonstrates that young soldiers who grew up playing video games are now able to transfer these skills to combat operations.
Members of the 1221st Engineer Clearance Company received the new Talon IV Reset robotic vehicle and completed training at their armory in Graniteville, SC on October 17, 2018. They set up a course with lanes simulating conditions with ammunition and explosives simulations and practiced maneuvering the Talon IV around obstacles, with images from four cameras mounted on the vehicle projected onto a monitor. The soldiers took turns driving the robot with the controller up a ramp to a course where they had to find artillery, simulate target destruction, maneuver the robot on a conical course, and then pick up a dummy grenade .
âFrom a technological standpoint and from what we see in our new equipment, the expectations and training of today’s soldier are very different from the capabilities we had in 2005,â said Sgt. First Class Ryan Shaw, operations noncommissioned officer of the 1221st Engineers.
Shaw said engineer soldiers who are trained on the Talon IV are given an additional skill identifier as an engineer explosive ordnance clearance officer. He said that in previous deployments they used this type of equipment quite often, mainly in accordance with the three phases of customs clearance. These include using the Husky Vehicle-Mounted Mine Detector to detect, the Buffalo Mine-Protected Demining Vehicle to dig up, and then the Talon robot for ammunition disposal.
The combat mission of the 1221st Engineer Clearance Company is to ensure the mobility of civil and military traffic on the roads. The Talon IV is used to find, target and eliminate all ammunition that poses a threat, such as improvised explosive devices set up by enemy forces.
âThese engineer soldiers can deploy the robot from a mounted or dismounted position,â said Adam Rider, instructor and program development specialist at Robotics Logistics Support Center at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., Who observed the robot’s drive track. “This system saves lives because soldiers can identify ammunition and detonate a device up to 800 meters away.”
According to Rider, the motto “Blow up a robot, save a life” is common when working in the explosive ordnance industry. He added that the changes in robotics for these systems are tailored to meet the current capabilities of today’s soldiers and have characteristics that many have seen from popular video game scenarios.
“We are seeing a transition in our ranks, as a lot of soldiers when I first joined are retiring and we see a lot of young soldiers who have grown up with 10 years of experience in the game,” said the Cpt. Russell Brewton, commanding officer of the 1221st Engineers. “It motivates them when they see a piece of equipment they are familiar with like a gamepad.”
The use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by insurgents in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has claimed thousands of lives for US and coalition forces. These robots are the lifeblood of the deminers community and save lives, Rider added, as he watched the Talon IV successfully complete its mission on the course and secure the dummy grenade.
âA lot of those soldiers can now say, I was playing video games and now I’m in the military,â Rider said.