Video games way oversold the military. Shooter after shooter and strategy game after strategy game promised a career filled with Firebats and thermonuclear grenades, but the actual military turned out to be a lot of hard work using basic tools. Where are the cybernetics and robots and zombie plants?
Turns out, “they’re” working on it. Here are 6 features of video games coming to real combat. Given, you know, the programs are successful
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Can’t wait until my future robot partner takes a human hostage and then gives me a creepy wink during the standoff.
What it is: In futuristic games like Titanfall, infantrymen go in with squads of robot soldiers that can carry their own weapons, drawing fire away from their human counterparts and slaying enemy forces like steel grim reapers.
Who’s making it real: DARPA (yeah, they’re going to come up a lot in this article) has the “Agile Teams” program which is tasked with creating mathematical models for assessing human-machine teams and looking for the best balance. Since programs to allow humans and machines work together on the battlefield already exist, DARPA is basically trying to build the measuring stick to assess those teams and improve them before they’re deployed.
In important note: Agile Teams isn’t only, or even mostly, about performance in ground combat. They’re also looking at how to pair robots and humans in analyzing intelligence, fighting a cyber battle, or conducting electronic warfare.
A soldier practices firing with an AimLock system.
(U.S. Army Angie Depuydt)
What it is: Most shooters, even ones that don’t advertise it, have some kind of “aim assist” built into gameplay. Through these systems, the computer makes the shooter just a little more accurate either by moving the targeting reticle slightly towards the enemy when the trigger is pulled or by curving bullets slightly towards targets, counting near-misses as hits.
Who’s making it real: Two groups are actually working on this. The Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center is working on AimLock, which basically takes the two major parts of the weapon (the upper and lower receivers), and separates the upper receiver from the rifleman’s direct control. The shooter pulls the trigger when they’re aimed at their target, the software and motors point the upper receiver at the target, and the round is fired.
Another program in development with the Army Research Lab re-purposes technology originally designed for stroke victims to reduce tremors. In the Mobile Arm Exoskeleton for Firearm Aim Stabilization program, new shooters are attached to a machine that stabilizes their arm while firing, dampening all the little tremors that make a big difference at hundreds of yards. Best of all, the program is shows results — even after the equipment is removed. Firers are becoming 15 percent more accurate after using and then removing MAXFAS.
What it is: In games like Warframe and Borderlands 2, players can work side by side with a murderous drone that kills enemy combatants, seeking out its own targets and watching the life slowly seep out of their human eyes.
Who’s making it real: To be fair, autonomous drones are already real, but they’re mostly good for vain athletes who want their drone to automatically take selfies. This NATO article summarizes a number of programs, mostly U.S. ones, for everything from autonomous wingmen for human pilots to drone swarms for the Air Force, Navy, and Army (yeah, it’s like KitKats — everyone wants a piece).
One fact that the military is generally quick to point out, though, is that all autonomous systems both in development and currently operational, have a “human-in-the-loop” system, meaning that the AI can only recommend targets, it cannot approve lethal action on its own. A human has to give the kill order.
Autonomous supply and medevac drops
What it is: In video games, you rarely have to wait more than a few minutes for a requested resupply to come in. Turn on a lunar beacon in Borderlands 2? Your gear will slam into the ground within seconds. Just Cause 3 lets you select a customized supply loadout, from guns to helicopters, and have it delivered within seconds.
Who’s making it real: DARPA, but getting helicopters airdropped is still beyond the plan. The Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System would result in remotely driven aircraft that could fly to and from battlefields with different pods useful for different purposes. The Marine Corps actually has an experimental supply drone helicopter built on a Bell UH-1H.
Graphic summarizing the Active Plant Technologies program.
What it is: From Final Fantasy‘s cactaurs to Plants vs. Zombies entire arsenal, video games have lots of examples of awesome plants. Plant 42 from Resident Evil can even eat humans and, potentially, turn them into zombies.
Who’s making it real: While DARPA is shamefully refusing to investigate the strengths of the T-virus in plant life, they are working with industry to propel the Advanced Plant Technologies program, where plants are modified to act as sensors, changing physical traits when in the presence of certain chemicals, pathogens, radiations, or electromagnetic signals. So, if you want to know whether the Wizard of Oz is still making nukes, just check the poppy fields.
Tactical Augmented Reality System screenshot
What it is: Nearly every first person shooter has a heads up display, a bit of information on the screen with everything from a minimap to an ammo count. See: Call of Duty, Counter-Strike, etc.
Who’s making it real: Lots of groups are working on different aspects of it, but the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development, and Engineering Center and the Army Research Lab have debuted a pretty impressive prototype called Tactical Augmented Reality that can display the locations of allies and known adversaries as well as comms info and navigation.