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Northrop Arms Its Robot Pack Mule With Big Gun

With a grin, Anderson calls it a “new application,” comparing his modification to the first time someone thought to arm a drone with a Hellfire missile. “We’re gonna come around the side here,” he says, “and scare people half to death.” That’s because Anderson has a touchscreen control, mounted in a nearby mockup Humvee, that jerks the gun around, lifting the nozzle skyward, dropping it back down and pitching it 90 degrees around. Passers-by pause their conversations at the sound of the whir of the gears that send the business end of the gun in their direction. Eyes get a little wider. Walking gets a little faster. In case it needs to be said, the gun isn’t armed. But the firing of the gun is all done remotely — through the same touchscreen controls that Anderson would normally use to send the CaMEL marching along. This version is actually stationary, even though Anderson expresses pride in its hybrid engine. (“It works just like a Toyota Prius,” he says.) It’s just a suggestion for the Army, Anderson says. Fort Benning is interested in a cargo-carrying robot, not a weaponized model: “The Army has not bought this.” That’s an understatement. The Army sent an armed robot called SWORDS to Iraq in 2007 — with great fanfare. But the Army wasn’t comfortable sending the machine-gun equipped ‘bot out on combat missions for fear of it malfunctioning. There are no plans for replacements. All Anderson is doing, he says, is nudging the Army, suggesting that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to have a rolling armed robot, and rattles off all the guns it can support: the M240, the M249, the MK19 grenade launcher, a 25mm or 30mm cannon. What could go wrong?

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