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How could simple but cheap robots be used in combat? These robots are capable of more than what we can do today but are still very simple compared to a lot of sci-fi. They can move across rough terrain relatively well but at a lower speed than a well trained soldier & on flat terrain a bit faster than a human.

The biggest limitation of these robots is their AI. They cannot tell friendlies, civilians & enemies apart without outside assistance. The 2 methods to mark someone to not be shot are with a tracker (all soldiers & robots carry a tracker) or being marked by a human. Humans can see through a robots camera for this purpose. They can tell vehicles apart by thermal signature. They can't do much beyond shoot at thermal signatures without human assistance.

However while bad at friend or foe identification they are extremely accurate. Each one is effectively a walking ballistics computer. Their most important sensor is a powerful thermal camera on the front of their head. They also have a secondary less powerful thermal camera. They also have an audio sensor, a wind sensor & a 360 degree motion sensor.

They are all 6'3 (190 cm) tall. They have 3 mounting points for equipment One shoulder mount & 2 arms. They can resist rounds up to 50. BMG all over. They are transported in vehicles capable of carrying 30 of them at once & they have 6 human leaders for every 25 robots. Tanks are available for support. They are intended to fight in conventional warfare in a near future environment. Other conventional units make up the majority of forces.

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    $\begingroup$ Can these robots discern if an individual carries a weapon? Can they hold combatants and non-combatants apart? $\endgroup$
    – DarthDonut
    Aug 9 at 6:39
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    $\begingroup$ For the cost of one humanoid robot you can make a dozen or more little armed quadcopter style robots. What advantage do you see of having such a large complicated device? $\endgroup$
    – Allan
    Aug 9 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Allen Or a hundred wheeled ground-based robots. Something low to the ground makes a much less obvious target than either a humanoid or a flying drone. Heck, it doesn't even need to be mobile. A few automated machine guns on rotating turrets can be pretty effective ground denial. $\endgroup$ Aug 9 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ From your initial few paras I was imagining real-world military spy robots the size of a breadbasket. Only at the end is it clear these are humanoid size and shape. Maybe move the description up? $\endgroup$ Aug 9 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ if they can't identify friend or foe there is never a reason to use them in combat, at least not in any way they would be using a weapon, one issue with combat is you never know when you will run into civilians or non-combatants. there is plenty of non-offensive roles they can be used in. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 9 at 17:48

20 Answers 20

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Dead Man's Land

You use the robots to create no go zones. Anyone in said zone isn't suppose to be there and is a viable target.

Military bases usually have said zones around the base to stop anyone from approaching except at approved check points.

In battle, you do the same to shape the battlefield. Area denial to create choke points.

You also use them for ambush. Leave them inactive while retreating and turn them on once your forces are safe and the enemy are in the kill zone.

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    $\begingroup$ Like a minefield, only better. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Aug 9 at 7:33
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs And much easier to clean up. They can be disabled via remote control, right? Right?!? $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Aug 10 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ weaponslaw.org/glossary/indiscriminate-weapon <- Even with an on/off switch, this probably violates the same international law that governs land mines since you can not make sure that civilians are not violating your no go zone. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 10 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Fortunately, we worldbuilders are not bound to the Geneva conventions when designing our fictional worlds. (Unfortunate for our characters, of course) $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Aug 11 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Philipp Geneva conventions go out the door in real wars too if they become inconvenient. $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Aug 12 at 2:12
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How cheap are we talking about? If production (and transport) costs of a robot are comparable to a price of a typical explosive device (say, a mine, a building demolition charge...), then it becomes cost efficient to load the robot with explosives and send it towards the target. Its AI can be even significantly simpler, just good enough to deliver itself to the given spot (distance & azimuth) and detonate. Direction finding can be augmented by (what could be the biggest) scifi element, like, say, a network of satellites transmitting very accurate signal with position information....

The question talks about land operations, but there is no reason such a robot cannot be used in naval warfare (simpler propulsion) or even fly (simpler steering).

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    $\begingroup$ Here is self-proppeled mine which has been used in action en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goliath_tracked_mine $\endgroup$
    – abukaj
    Aug 9 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ The humanoid robot can shoot through walls thanks to the infrared camera, and with pinpoint accuracy too. Its human shape also allows it to fit inside vehicles and use weapons designed for humans. It may not be as cheap as a Minebot, but it only uses one bullet per enemy. It's an investment. $\endgroup$ Aug 9 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ @LiveInAmbeR same reason we still use bombers even though we have long-ranged cruise missiles. Some cruise missiles are almost as expensive as whole bombers. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 10 at 22:12
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If you want to get really cheap and simple (and small -- like a baseball), use them for swarming the enemy. They may not even need to engage in combat. They could be surveillance. Or they could even just be a distraction -- if the enemy is trying to smash the robotic cockroaches crawling into his bunker, he may not respond quickly when actual soldiers approach. (Sorry for ignoring most of the text of your question, but this idea came to mind just based on the title)

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    $\begingroup$ Subterfuge & misdirection. Always overlooked when it comes to fancy-dan warbots. Also: I'd award +2 for the term "robotic cockroaches". So apt! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 9 at 15:33
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Dispatching and logistic on the battlefield, delivering the front lines with supplies/ammos, especially in a trench warfare scenario.

Their combat skills can be used to protect their payload from unwanted attentions, and their ability at target recognition ensures that they deliver always to the intended receiver.

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    $\begingroup$ Along these same lines, they can be used as automated ambulances to transport wounded troops back from the trenches. $\endgroup$
    – bta
    Aug 10 at 1:31
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If humans can be used to perform IFF operations remotely then you can simply use them as disposable avatars of actual trained soldiers.

Have an armoured vehicle behind the front lines that’s filled with flat-packed robots and a well protected camp even further back that’s filled with drone operators. The drone operators are each responsible for giving orders to and doing IFF for exactly one droid. Depending on the operation profile and acceptable civilian casualties the drones will either fire unless told otherwise, hold fire unless told otherwise, or even some other combination of things (don’t fire at anyone wearing red unless told to by an operator?) to account for split-second signal delay.

Then you’ve basically got one soldier per robot. Where’s the advantage?

Remember the flat-packed robots? Every time a drone is destroyed another one unpacks, links back to the appropriate operator, and sets off at a dead sprint to the frontline. As long as the supply chain from factory to battlefield is unbroken your operators can effectively never die: they will always have another drone to pilot.

Sufficiently skilled operators could even run whole squads, with some smart software helping the robots track already confirmed friend/foe designations using nothing but clever positioning software.

For anyone old enough to remember it: Yes, I pretty much just described ARM from Total Annihilation, minus some cloning.

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    $\begingroup$ It isn't a robot if controlled by humans (lacks the autonomy) $\endgroup$
    – Allan
    Aug 9 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Allan you can call it an RC mech or a land drone - it doesn't matter. The tactics are identical. And two-way communication with remote sensing has even been granted by the asker. $\endgroup$ Aug 9 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ "You have been killed, Respawn in 5...4...3...2...1..." $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 9 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki booting is fast, but you have to manually travel from the spawn location to the battlefield $\endgroup$ Aug 10 at 10:29
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs and actually, it would be a cool mechanic in a PvP game, wouldn't it? $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 21:46
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As Loitering Munition Systems, as they are today.

STM Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik ve Ticaret A.Ş. make products similar to what you describe, the rotary wing Kargu and fixed wing Alpagu, demos available on youtube of both:

  • Cheap, while they do not advertise a price it is reasonable to assume they are at a lower cost point than other larger solutions
  • No good at identifying friend and foe
  • Accurate at hitting what they are told to hit
  • Resistant to fire from anti personnel weapons (though for different reasons)

These have been used against targets over the horizon, where risking numans is not required. The UN reports it was used in Libya last year:

Logistics convoys and retreating [armed groups affiliated to Khalifa Haftar] were subsequently hunted down and remotely engaged by the unmanned combat aerial vehicles or the lethal autonomous weapons systems such as the STM Kargu-2 and other loitering munitions.

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Look at Real World Examples of What Works

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck then its a duck, or in your case, if it looks like infantry and goes bang like infantry, then it is infantry. But this would make for a lame answer; so, instead of exactly answering how it can be used (since you are already clearly looking to fill an infantry role) I will instead answer how you can refine this design to fill its intended role much better with the tech you already have.

How could simple but cheap robots be used in combat?

First, if your goal is a cheap, then you should consider redesigning a few aspects of them. While the real world already has the technology to do more or less what you are asking for, actual militaries are not moving in the direction of humanoid bots with many hardpoints because such bots simply do not add any utility that other, cheaper body plans could achieve.

If you want multiple weapon systems, I would suggest a single integrated hard point with a weapon system more like an m-16/m-203 combo. Or if you think in terms of tanks, like how the M3 Bradley has a cannon and missile system on the same turret. It reduces cost, weight, and complexity without really giving up any practical combat potential. Also, if you design the hardpoint more like a tank turret, it means much better armor, range of motion, and recoil handling, than a humanoid arm/shoulder like hardpoint. Since these bots are designed to operate in squads though, I would suggest an interchangeable turret designed to pack operation specific weapon systems. While there may be cases where a multi-role turret would be ideal, sometimes it is better to pack one weapon that fills its desired role very well than several weapons that are only okay at their jobs. So you could, if need be, take out the assault riffle/grenade launcher combo on some bots and instead give them one much heavier weapon like a heavy machine gun, an anti-tank missile launcher, or flame thrower. If you focus on many smaller hardpoints, no one of them will have the same maximum capacity for this.

Secondly, wheels are better than feet in most cases. They are more energy efficient, more resistant to damage, and much faster. If you need your robots to go indoors sometimes, give them a convertible wheel system like the Hyundai Elevate, but these will probably only need be on some of your droids. Walkable wheels are going to be more expensive and less reliable So, if your droids come in squads of 25, perhaps some are little more than mini-person sized tanks, while others are more specialized infiltration units that can convert to climb stairs when the need arises.

I would also only give arms to your infiltration variety but only 1. Nothing a robot needs to do when sieging a building actually requires more than one hand, so don't waste the parts on two. In rare cases where 2 hands are needed for something, they can work together. You can see this price saving feature in the design of Bostin Dynamic's Spot which has been proving the ability of 1-armed robots to get around urban environments like this just fine for the past couple of years.

For armor, you are describing STANAG 4569 Level 4 armor which is pretty heavy stuff for what is meant to be a cheap droid. Such a droid would need ~31 mm of ceramic/composite armor to block a BMG-50 round. At ~90kg/m^2 your droids would need to invest not just in armor weight, but in a hefty engine too. If we consider a robot with just 3-4m^2 of armor and that tanks are normally 35-50% armor by weight, this means we are looking at robot that weighs as much as a small sedan. This could pose a significant problem moving such a small bot through buildings or soft terrain. I would instead suggest 16-25mm ceramic/composite armor over most of the body for level 2-3 protection. Level-2 will still stop most standard infantry rounds, and level-3 will stop most Armor Piercing infantry rounds, all at a much lower weight and cost. I would only put anything as heavy as level-4 on the front ends of the non-infiltration units since that is by far the most likely place for you to have to take anything as heavy as a 50-BMG like round. Of course, if you use sloped armor, you may still be able to get away with a thinner, lighter armor and still be able to stop a BMG-50 round, but only assuming it hits you at a "good" angle. With selective armoring as described above, you could probably reduce the average weight per unit down to something in the 300-500kg range which means cheaper to build, cheaper to transport, cheaper to operate, better for entering buildings, and still able to handle most of the threats it realistically would need to face.

As for control systems: consider something like the IDF Jaguar. This Hybrid AI weapons system is basically just what you are asking for. A single operator can control multiple Jaguars by setting way points and letting the AI do all the stuff that normally takes a full person's focus. Since their AI is not quite good enough to ensure an ethical kill, the target confirmation is always done by a remote operator. Otherwise, they can pretty much fill the role of normal infantry with only one operator able to control several of them.

Sizing them to make them fit?

Your droids have to fit things in 3ways.

1: It needs to fit through most standard international doors which are 2.5ft (76cm) wide.

2: It needs to be able to be small and light enough to fit 25 to a standard freight container so you that you don't need to make special accommodations to transport a squad of them. Your standard freight container has an internal cross-section of 7'8.125" x 7'9.525" (234x238cm), and come in length increments of 10, 20, & 40ft (305, 610, & 914 cm), and your average freight truck can pull 40 tons.

3: It needs to have the verticality to do what people do.

So, if you keep them just under 23" (58cm) wide, then you can pack them into a standard container 4 to a row and they can fit through standard international doors with a few inches to spare. Length will be more needed to make sure you can fit the needed power/propulsion/electronics systems this thing will need; so, longer is better, but too long and you will again have issues with moving around indoors; so, I would cap this at 4' (117cm). For this gives you enough room to fit up to 40 in a 40' truck... or in your case, 25 plus some room for your human operations control station. Going back to my armor/weight estimates, this also puts you at a weight of <12.5 metric tons of bots meaning you have >25 tons of weight capacity left to meet the needs of your control station and logistics which should be plenty.

As for being 6'3" tall as defined by the OP, it would have a sensor boom similar to the IDF Jaguar; so, it can see over things a person can see over but it's actual turret would be at about hip height when standing in it's walk mode, or in it's drive mode it would have an even lower profile mimicking a person in a more prone position. This way it has the advantages of both a vertical human body plan and horizontal vehicle.

What do you get when you add up all these features?

enter image description here

What you have is a weapons platform that, if mass produced, would have a pretty small price tag as far as military expenditures go. It can do all the things a foot soldier can do: travel through any terrain, infiltrate building, etc, but has much better armor, advanced sensors, better aiming, better carry capacity, can move much faster over even terrain, and does not endanger the life of a human combatant. Because of the semiautonomous nature of the AI, anything AIs do better than humans can be done by the AI, anything humans do better can be done by the humans, all while you run a learning AI to watch the human operators behaviors until the AI gets better at those things too. In short, if you want to make a near-future semi-autonomous infantry replacement bot, all the pieces you need to make it happen already exist, you just need to put them together.

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    $\begingroup$ remote operator is a great solution, if the machine can't identify friend or foe don't let it try. you could use it as a sniper, snipers usually work in teams, now you you use a spotter that is also your target identifier and use a robot sniper. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 9 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ It has utility beyond sniping too. Since the bot has an advanced thermal scanner as per the OP's specs, in a target rich environment, your operator can tag enemies expressing hostile body language even before they come into Line of Sight allowing you to get around the simultaneous target presentation issue, or if the situation is desperate enough, you could even turn on a non-discrimination mode and let the bots kill anything in the area that is not already marked as a friendly. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 9 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ Oh yes I can see a lot of use for it, either as remote oversight or in person pair/squad systems. An RTS gamers wet dream. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 9 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Pelinore 3d printers need plastics of exact specifications that take minutes if not hours to print. Mass produced parts can be diecast in seconds and give better quality out of cheaper materials. Over the life of a device, a diecast machine costs much less per print than a 3d printer, but has a higher upfront cost. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 10 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ Also, the parts used to manufacture drones are also being closely watched by many governments these days because of just this risk. A terrorist could EASILY buy 1 drone for any purpose he likes. But if someone wanted to acquire hundreds of small electric flight motors, ratio receivers, tiny cameras, etc... that would quickly rose the suspicion of numerous intelligence agencies. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 10 at 21:09
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Don't give them a weapon

There is absolutely no reason to arm something that cannot identify friend or foe, you never know when you will encounter civilians or non-combatants. Hostages, prisoners, children, backpackers, doctors, you never know when you will encounter something you really really don't want to kill.

So you don't arm them, that drastically limits the damage they can do. Use them as scouts, as equipment carriers, bomb disposal, rescue, even just general labor. look at what we are already looking into using autonomous robots for equipment transport (big dog), rescue (BEAR). jobs humans cannot do well or jobs were putting a human at risk is a very bad idea. Bomb disposal, would be great since they can be sent with or as patrols, and you are not risking a human life. rescue is a similar problem, especially in urban environments where you are putting a medic in serious risk from enemy fire or hazardous environments. they are also places with fairly clear goals, rescue solider smith or rescue anyone in that collapsed building or in that crashed plane.

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  • $\begingroup$ Israel recently launched the first fully autonomous drone swarm in history following this concept. The drones were not armed but flew themselves around enemy territory using image recognition software to ID potential enemy positions. So, all the human operators had to do was go through a list of probable targets and relay positions to artillery crews. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 10 at 13:38
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Announce them and use them in suicide waves against enemy positions.

You can have all your soldiers use badges to identify them. Then, you use loudspeakers to announce "Killer robots will be released in five minutes. Surrender and come with your hands up." Then you release them, and they kill everyone inside.

If people wanted to live, they would surrender? Anyone still inside is clearly an insurgent.

Work out a way to let people surrender.

They seem to have a camera. Train them to recognize people lying on the floor, spread like a star fish, ideally face down. That way people can surrender and not be shot, while being in a position that prevents you from effectively shooting robots. In addition, seeing someone face down and not shooting at them would trigger someone to watch through a camera and the robot to not immediately shoot them.

You could also determine whether to kill them based on how quickly the thermal sources moved. They can already track and shoot people, so if people were on the ground and not moving they wouldn't be a serious threat.

You could also make codewords people can say to change the behaviour of the robots, or indicate a surrender.

They already have thermal maps, and probably are trained to recognize heads so they can do headshots. There will be accidents, but this is a way to minimize casualties.

Clear out snipers and artillery.

Snipers and artillery can be major irritants for advancing forces. You can give the robots long range weapons like guided rockets and sniper rifles to take out such irritants. This can also help minimize casualties, since they will be trained to only shoot at enemies who fire at them.

Using their sound sensors and thermal sensors they can pinpoint enemy positions and take them out. They can also guide rockets much more accurately than humans, taking out enemies behind cover.

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  • $\begingroup$ The robots are cheap. If people learn to game them, a few die and you can change the criteria and not tell people. Plus, my surrender criteria inherently make people less deadly. If you are lying on the floor face down, you're not very good at shooting people. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 9 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ All military expenditures are a matter of cost vs benefit. It may well be seen as worth it to lose a few robots to ambushes to minimize civilian casualties. Or it may not be worth it, and you may kill everyone. Having the option is valuable for your killbots. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 9 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ That said a reread of the OP suggests human users are likely on hand to remote them as needed so that would seem to overcome all my objections [rolls eye's] just ignore me, your idea is fine for the OP's robots as described .. so I'll delete my end of this conversation after the TV I'm watching o7 $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 9 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ until they run into a structure and find tied up hostages/captives and shoot them. at which point the commander that authorized their usages best career move is commiting suicide. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 9 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ If you think hostages are likely you can have people ride the bots, or have them only shoot if shot on. That said, radio connections can be cut, and accidents happen. Wouldn't be the first time a military killed civilian targets or its own allies, and many people survive such things or even get promoted for decisive action. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 9 at 17:57
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Make it so that a robot on a 10 second basis sends a radio ping to a specific tower or signal relay with its current position. The tower receives signals from all units (human and robot) and tracks their positions. It will relay those positions to the robot for units that are close by and avoid conflict with them. Anything that has a heat signature that is not on the list of nearby friendlies gets attacked.

Potential targets could also receive a radio ping with an expected response to prevent getting fired upon.

Of course, both of these options create lots of opportunities for hacks, tricks, or capturing and using units to fake out opponents, which could be a major underpinning to a story line.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice idea, gives scope to the writer. Please enjoy our tour and refer to the help center as and when for guidance as to our ways. Welcome to worldbuilding (from review). $\endgroup$ Aug 9 at 23:50
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Default setting be to use non-lethal munitions e.g Tear gas, tasers. This way you could keep them in the thick of things but mitigates risk of deadly harm to civilians or friendlies.

IF they require a lethal setting, then allow this to be toggled by their human handler(s). To control the lethality of the robots, the human handler will use GPS to designate zones where the lethal munitions can be used. These lethal zones would be set to expire eventually i.e without further input from the human handler.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding Unbridledscum, take our tour and read-up in the help center about how we work, enjoy the site. $\endgroup$ Aug 10 at 20:02
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Look, it's RB-551." "No wonder he got blasted. He's one of those older models programmed by a central computer." "Not like us; we're independent thinkers." "Roger roger." "Roger roger." "Roger roger.

What you’ve described is pretty much what the battle droids from Starwars have been used for. Though your design is arguably more efficient, especially the shoulder mounted guns (recommend installing two for symmetry). The difficulty to distinguish friend from foe is very realistic, and requires human supervision, which is also very good. It has been proven that man&machine teamwork is most efficient.

Droids aren’t really cheaper than human forces as they don’t make babies that replace them when they die. But they can be mass produced, which depending on the recourses of a country is far better. Less loss of (ally) life and can potentially outnumber and overpower enemy forces. Repairing and recycling lost droids is also an advantage, allows to win battle of attrition. However despite all these advantages machines aren’t really that “cheap” compared to recruits.

Heres why: Humans require food, water, clothing, rest and shelter on a daily basis. Occasionally they also require medical aid and take long to recover. Some cannot be fixed. Droids run on electricity only. Occasionally they require tuning, repairs and spare parts and experience malfunctions. Humans are cheap but require a lot of care to keep going. Each droid is expensive but require less care overall.

Plus sides: Droids are better programmed right away and few humans can withstand them for long. Droid losses can be overlooked with constant production as such they can carry suicidal missions. They still have humans fighting by their side, so there is a clear numerical advantage. Lastly droids have a “fear factor” that intimidates and discourages enemies so they give up without putting up a fight.

In short droids always at the front lines and humans giving orders, repairs and backup. If the droids get destroyed the human team retreats to get a second batch. This way warfare is optimized.

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    $\begingroup$ A human's cost of upkeep till it is a combat-ready soldier is quite high. $\endgroup$
    – abukaj
    Aug 9 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ A major feature of star wars droids is they can tell friend from foe. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 11 at 16:06
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You are essentially describing a walking version of Boeings Loyal Wingman program

In practice it would work with squads of robots moving forwards with a single human operator, following at a safe distance, working with either a handheld or wearable device giving a tactical picture and feed from robot cameras who would designate targets and give movement orders to the robots in his squad.

Think Space Hulk from the 1993 PC game

interface

Loyal Wingman

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Use them as robot shield. They stand in front of the human soldiers while advancing on the enemy (like a phalanx). As they are destroyed a new robot moves to the front, protecting the humans from all but the biggest bombs.

They would also be useful in urban environments, just have them walk out of cover to attract the attention of hidden snipers and enemy units. Then from cover the human soldiers can spot the hidden enemies.

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Clearing minefields.

Kind of a stretch of the definition of "combat", I know, but if they're cheap, it's not going to matter if a few hundred get blown up while clearing out a minefield. If they're really cheap, you could send thousands into the minefield to clear out the mines by getting blown up.

Equip them with digging equipment and set them to work digging up areas suspected to have mines. Make it safe for your troops during wartime, and get some good press with the locals during peacetime. Nobody likes mines except the scum-bags laying the damn things.

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Can I suggest some modifications to make them utterly terrifying.

Add a chest-mounted circular saw, and a set of tentacle-like arms that can extend to 8 or 10 feet, the arms shoot out and grapple an enemy within range and pull them into the spinning sawblade.

Have them walk in a human-like manner, but when they run, have them scuttle forward on all fours in unpredictable sets of steps.

The overall impression is of something alien & insectile, something to trigger a fear response in anyone facing them, drastically reducing their combat effectiveness.

The enemy troupes who don't run will concentrate all their fire on the advancing robots, possibly allowing conventional forces to flank them.

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It's not science fiction, we saw the prototypes already on the internet.

Imagine a drone swarm, each drone has like a c4 or some shit attached. If they spot a target, they just suicide bomb it.

Super easy, super cheap, ultra high terror and mindbreak. Drones could be build as little spiders or wasps if you want to go more science fiction, to deliver a single burst to the head while beeing in full stealth.

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Similar to @Joe Bloggs' answer, use them as remote-controlled drones. This is in some ways similar to the ways we use UAVs today. Someone far away, out of range of enemy fire, controls the targeting and chooses when to fire, but the robot tracks the targets and covers the ballistics side of things.

According to your requirements, each "controller" has around 5 robots to direct. However, since the robots can handle terrain navigation and targeting themselves, all the human controller has to do is direct movement and choose targets. Instead of defaulting to "shoot unless told otherwise", just default to don't shoot unless told otherwise, and your controllers will mark enemy targets.

Each controller gets 6 control stations: one for each camera to mark enemy targets (touch the screen where you want the bullet to go, then hit OK!), and one for movement. Think mini-map in a video game, with the ability to control troop movement by simply drawing the direction your troops should go. Use software to also show positions of other friendly forces and unknown forces / heat signatures.

As an alternate method of targeting, troops on the ground can point the laser guided shoot-signal at enemy forces. A simple algorithm in the robot could watch for those lasers, and target any heat sources they passed over. For added troop safety, you could also have a failsafe to prevent the enemy from copying your laser guide and targeting friendly forces: issue a standard friendly-forces beacon to each troop and instruct them to wear it on the external of their uniform.

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Information sharing and fast coordination

Rather than single robots you have a swarm that can quickly share every information or order they can get. Once an enemy is identified by a remote operator or simply because they attacked one of the robots all the robots know that enemy and their position. Multiple observations from different angles with few input by the operators could quickly become a very detailed picture of the field, even better than what human infantry soldier could get. Even coordination after every order would be much more efficient than what could be achieved with human soldiers. Together they could form a machine that is more effective than a platoon even if the single unit is inferior to the human soldier.

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Interesting real-world example here: Bomb robot

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you elaborate a bit? WB.SE discourages link-only answers. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Aug 11 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ Just saying - it doesn't have to be sexy terminator-style robots to get the job done. Drones dropping tear gas, automatic firing guns, etc. $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 15:26

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