War really is getting more like a video game, as hardware and software from the gaming industry is increasingly being adopted for military use. The latest sign of this appeared at the Farnborough air show this week, where arms-maker Raytheon showed off its new Universal Control System for robotic aicraft. It’s based on the same technology that drives Halo and Splinter Cell:
“Gaming companies have spent millions to develop user-friendly graphic interfaces, so why not put them to work on UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]?” says Mark Bigham, business development director for Raytheon’s tactical intelligence systems. “The video-game industry always will outspend the military on improving human-computer interaction.”
The Universal Control System is said to combine ‘best-of-breed technologies from the gaming industry’ with Raytheon know-how to create an interface which will lead to a significant reduction in accidents. Raytheon claim the system could save $500 million over ten years.
– Armchair pilots striking Afghanistan by remote control
– Pentagon chief seeks more drones in Iraq
– Pilotless surveillance aircraft are being trialled across Britain
– Pilots Yanked Out of Planes for Drone Duty
Improving the interface with techniques from video games can help ground robots too. New Scientist reported on how a Wiimote controller is being used to replace the joystick-type controllers used by PackBot IED disposal robots :
“The problem with the joypad is that it takes a lot of concentration and can monopolize the attention of the soldier using it…
The Wiimote is far more intuitive because movements of the hand directly translate into movements of the robot. Bruemmer says it should allow soldiers to control the robots more instinctively.”
Meanwhile blogger Paul Maunder spotted a British Army recruiting advert which seemed to show troops using an Xbox 360 controller to pilot a small drone. (See above.) Paul used the Freedom of Information Act to find out if he was right, and had this reply:
“The system used to control the planes has been adapted by Lockheed Martin and although the controller used by the soldiers to fly the plane is very similar to a Microsoft Xbox 360 controller, it is not the same. You will see that there is no Microsoft wording on the controller nor a wired headset port.“
Sounds like they’re using an unbranded copy…Paul also notes that the US Army seem to be using Xbox controllers with an SUGV ground robot.
It’s not just at the low end either. Roadrunner, the latest world’s-fastest-computer is built from chips originally designed for games machines. In the Guardian, IBM’s VP of supercomputing describes Roadrunner as “a very souped-up Sony PlayStation 3,” but one with a serious purpose: “providing classified data to help assess the safety, and readiness, of the US nuclear arsenal.”
Roadrunner will be used by nuclear weapons experts at Los Alamos to simulate the first fractions of a second of a nuclear detonation. Additional computing units will be linked to Roadrunner, allowing a quarter of its power to remain available for unclassified projects.
The ready availability of cheap processing power has not escaped DARPA, who have a program called Space Time Adaptive Processing or STAP Boy, with the goal of “harnessing the power of modern gaming chips to put teraflop signal processing into the hands of the individual soldier.” Under this program, cheap hardware based on gaming engines will be used for tasks such as “high-resolution radar imaging….urban structure mapping and occupant tracking, and multi-dimensional automatic target recognition.”
Presumably the troops will also be able to play Grand Theft Auto during downtime.
By David Hambling
July 19, 2008