Russia has been on a tear to get new robotic combat capabilities up and running, with big goals slated for its air forces and its ground forces, some of which are already online, including the tracked 'Platform-M.' Yet this gangly, ATV-riding patrol bot isn't exactly setting Russia's hunter-in-chief's heart on fire.
What appears to be more of an autonomous vehicle sensor test than any kind of combat robot, this cybernetic biker's mission seems dubious at best, so we really can't blame Vlad for his disappointment. Although the burning fire in the background does help with the ambiance.
Something between Robocop's ED-209, Short Circuit's Johnny 5 and Disney's WALL-E, Platform-M is not all just propaganda, as it may actually have some relevant military applications. The stout little tank's weaponry is no joke, packing a light machine gun and a quartet of grenade launchers mounted on a hardy chassis. Just like SWAT teams and the military's EOD specialist use tracked vehicles today, nixing the technological constraints of a remote controlled mini-tank could be useful for some missions like scouting enemy lines for IEDs and mines, as well as working as a mobile unmanned sentry. This is especially true considering that some of Russia's bases are in extremely cold environments, which can wear out a guard's effectiveness pretty quick.
Russian officials have stated that that their Platform-M war-bot is slated for even more dynamic tasks such as providing fire support for patrols and actively taking out mobile and stationary targets alongside Russian foot soldiers. These are tasks that seem a little less plausible considering that Platform-M appears to only be equipped with a single close-circuit, like a television camera with a narrow field of view, although Russia continues to evaluate the system's potential in war games. None-the-less, even as an armed security guard, where the terrain is known by its operators and conditions are less chaotic than on the battlefield, such a machine does make some sense.
Although it's slated as an "unmanned system", just because you stick a machine where a man with a rifle and binoculars would usually be, it does not mean that such a concept actually saves manpower. Platform-M is clearly a man-in-the-loop design, so the idea that it could potentially save on manpower is something still far off into the future, although in Russia it may bring that man out of the cold.
Platform-M may have some pretty straightforward military applications and at its core it is really just a remote controlled miniature mini-tank, but putting forward hyped-up "combat robots" like the one riding the ATV will hurt Russia's credibility when it comes to unmanned systems. Considering that it almost certainly intends to export these types of weapon systems in the future, it will have to get a handle on its public affairs image when it comes to robotics.
Then again, regardless of its Terminator-like appendages or how many burning oil barrels are strewn about during the demonstration, this skeletal android biker is clearly far from ready for battle – or Putin's steely glare – but it sure is good for a good laugh. And if this is Skynet, we really don't have much to worry about, yet.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com