Fort Benning soldiers test smartphones with robots for tactical aid

By BEN WRIGHT | Columbus Ledger-Enquirer | Published: May 14, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ga. — With a Dragon Runner robot and a controller guiding assault training at Fort Benning, Army Lt. Brandon Slusher reached into his pocket Tuesday and pulled out a Nexus smartphone to monitor the action.

Slusher didn't get a picture on his phone until the controller was within 20 feet away. The controller with cameras mounted on the robot sends a Wi-Fi signal to the cellphone to relay video images of the battle zone.

Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment have been testing the smartphone, a Small Unit Leader Situational Awareness Tool with robots, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or drones at the McKenna Military Operations On Urban Terrain training area.

Using a real-time video and images from multiple unmanned systems, the smartphone improves situational awareness, decision making and increases the mission command effectiveness.

Slusher described the device as handy. If soldiers are on an assault and find enemies in a building, the squad can send the robot and its controller to a safe area to get the best information.

"With a camera on top, he can look in windows, inside doors and they can help expand night view," Slusher said. "It can change my decision making."

With improvised explosive devices used on the battlefields, a robot can examine a bomb and save the life of a soldier.

"You make the best decision with the information you have," Slusher said.

Spc. Timothy McCoy, the controller for the robot on the ground and who has a control system for the UAV in a backpack, said it's been an easy experience to use the systems.

Collecting information from the air and on the ground make it easier for soldiers patrolling an area. "To clear a route is a good asset to have," McCoy said. "It's definitely been easier to operate."

On Tuesday, McCoy said he used an arm on the robot to see around corners and what appeared on the route ahead for the approaching squad. The laptop computer used by McCoy sends a signal to his squad leader's phone to view the same images on the cellphone.

The device is a good asset especially if you haven't been to a village. "That is what I would use it for mainly," McCoy said.

Staff Sgt. Vincent Kelly agrees the device helps to make better conscious decisions for squad leaders. He would like to see improved range from the controller to the squad leader with the smartphone and a more durable device.

On the battlefield, soldiers must have discipline in using the handheld device. "It has a lot of discipline, when to take it out and when to look at it," he said.

If there is a sniper on the loose, Kelly said you might not want to be staring down at a cellphone in the middle of the night.

Kelly said the new technology is a concept with some promise. "I definitely can see it moving forward," he said.

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