In my world, an organization similar to DARPA wants to replace flesh-and-blood soldiers with recently developed mechanical bodies. However, the fighting expertise of the soldiers is very desirable, so the military wants a way for soldiers to control the robots remotely, moment-by-moment.

Using satellites (as the U.S. does with drones) seems impractical, since the ping on them is very long and hand-to-hand combat requires actions to change in fractions of a second. Add to this the time delay of encrypting and decrypting data and the robots are beaten before the soldiers can react.

How can I wirelessly control my robotic soldiers in a way that is difficult to hack but allows for fighting decisions to be transmitted and implemented with the least amount of delay?

Note: the distance between soldiers and their robots is unimportant so long as the soldiers are safely beyond the battle.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually, the distance of the soldiers from the drones is the single most important aspect of this question. "Ping" is a measurement of "latency," or how long it takes a signal to get somewhere. The further away the soldier, the higher the latency. If the soldiers are within 1/2 mile, simple encrypted radio will do. If they are on the other side of the planet, satellites are almost mandatory. For your question to be answered, you must tell us exactly how for away the soldiers are. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I know that the distance is relevant I just didn't want people only working under the assumption they'd be the same distance away as actual drone pilots. But thanks for pointing this out. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ What's wrong with an ordinary cellular communication network? In many countries cellular networks provide millions of devices with low latency high-bandwidth network access. Are the robots really expected to be operated from across an ocean? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ What aspects of the soldier's skills are deemed valuable here? As a general rule, you will see that the further you get away from the fray, the more useful it is for instructions to be more strategic (and thus more immune to time delays). The better you understand what skills you want to imbue your robots with, the better you can design the system to support those needs. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Satellites going around the globe will still have significant latency, so e.g. 500 ms (fatal in hand-to-hand combat) would not be unheard of. $\endgroup$
    – forest
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 3:45

5 Answers 5


There isn't a better remote control system than radio. Unfortunately this leaves any such system vulnerable to all the gremlins in any wireless signal. Long ping times, encryption, and loss of signal are all problems that any remotely controlled system face. There are no ways to overcome this without resorting to autonomous systems in the robot itself.

If you want remote controlled robot soldiers in your story you can always handwave it and say something about how advanced quantum mumble mumble effects have revolutionized communication technologies.


Each soldier is represented by an onboard individualized AI, which has spent time observing the soldier and can replicate his or her decision making abilities.

Your DARPA would have tried AI powered mechanical bodies. They work great, but when they fail they all fail in the same way. They realized that this happened because they were using the same AI for all of the bodies.

The solution: each AI is "taught" by long association with an individual soldier. The AI picks up the idiosyncrasies and habits (good and bad) of that soldier. Sometimes the AI screws up, but sometimes the soldier screws up too. Rather than redundancy, with multiple different learned algorithms a screwup by one AI can be salvaged by others in its party. Likewise, multiple individualized AI truly have the power of the "mass mind". A group of bodies all powered by a duplicated AI will always come to a unanimous decision, but a group of individualized AIs can differ, and ultimately those differences lead to more effective decisionmaking and action.

The other reason for AIs is that real humans have instinctive hesitations and limitations tied to our long evolution as biological organisms. AIs do not - or should not; in this scenario some will pick up human habits from their human soldier templates.

Of course if a body is destroyed there exists a copy of the AI. If the body comes home the experiences of the copy in the body is uploaded to the template, which learned from these experiences (and so gradually drifts away from the soldier it is based on...)

  • $\begingroup$ I like the way you think but unfortunately that doesn't really work for my purposes. I didn't mention this in the original post since it wasn't really relevant to my question but my country is predominantly muslim. And in my research I've come to the conclusion that AI mimicking specific people is probably haram. So no luck :P $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 22:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Elazertwist You shouldn't just go declaring things haram. The ulama (judges) are the ones who do that. You can ask on our sister site is there has ever been a determination (fatwa) issued to that effect. Otherwise, it is fairly offensive to tell other people what their religion is. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 23:21
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion Oh my apologies. I didn't mean to say it was actually haram. I found a thread on islam SE called "What is the Islamic position on artificial intelligence?"(in case you'd like to see for yourself) and the top answer said they thought (they weren't a scholar or anything) that it was probably halal but it depended. Sorry if what I said seemed a bit too absolute, not my intention. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 23:55

The idea of a human directly controlling a robot avatar in combat is an idea ultimately doomed to failure.

Humans have reaction times measured in milliseconds, while a well-programmed machine could have reaction times measured in microseconds. This would result in any mechanical avatar being shot down by any pure AI robot in short order. Adding communications lag to this setup would only make things worse.

The ideal combat automaton would be more compact than a human soldier, better armoured and not burdened with a human's abysmal reaction times.

The only realistic roles that a human might play in a battlefield filled with advanced combat robots is as the source of the objectives and rules of engagement, as a target or as an obstacle/cover (depending on the rules of engagement and if they're armed).

The other problems with humans is that they have their own agendas, including self-preservation near the top of the list. That's all very good much of the time, but sometimes in war, a sacrificial pawn is required.

In short, the best human soldier's combat expertise is of little use to a robot, especially if the soldier is directly controlling that robot. In computer first-person-shooter games, the problem that the programmers face in creating AI opponents - even ones that follow the rules and have mobility characteristics equivalent to a human - is making them imperfect enough to not win every time through sheer reactiveness, and making them smart enough is a secondary problem. Without doing this, human players get frustrated because they can't win - they stick their head out from behind cover and the 'bot kills them. They wait for the bot to stick its head out from behind cover, and the bot does so, aims and shoots before the player can react, killing a player, then retreats before any surviving players can return fire effectively. Getting more sophisticated, if players suppress an area with continuous fire, the 'bot waits for them to run out of ammo, then jumps out and returns fire between reloads - and it can count shots, and know the difference between a deliberate pause and the limits of a magazine, or it finds an alternate route, or calls in a friend.

So, don't try to make a humanoid robot that can move like a human - that's complex and a waste of computing resources. Make a small tank-like ground vehicle or an airborne drone with a minimal requirement for bodily dexterity.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree, not to mention making them remote control introduces the problem of ping in the first place. If they all had their own AI, then they could each respond independently as each robot sees fit. They can have a shared cache or something to keep up to date with commands from HQ, but again this doesn't need to be updated every second so much as every hour or everyday. Which is much more optimal. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 17:52

We don't know how to do this exactly and it may require some hand waving but you could pull an Enders Game and use quantum superpositions in electrons to control the robots, or a cell tower, maybe a Lazer being reflected of a mirror satellite that can only be produced the control station that owns the robots. The electron one though is impossible to hack.


The most secure way would probably have to do with Quantum Entanglement. I'm not how it works, and you could probably hand wave it with a magical piece of technology that just leverages it. This would make your robots basically un-hackable (unless they physically capture the robot) and would provide you with the most direct way of communication outside of a direct cable into the robot. I'm not sure about the actual delay, but I imaging nothing would beat the straight line distance on a curved planet.


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