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U.S. Army hopes to start fielding futuristic robotic mules next year

Posted by Dylan Malyasov on


The U.S. Army squads and battalions may start receiving futuristic remote-controlled robotic vehicles or robotic mules by next year.

The robotic mule, or Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET) vehicle, is designed to reduce soldiers’ load by carrying their weapons and supplies in the field. These small vehicles are expected to follow along with a squad of Soldiers as they walk to wherever it is they have been directed to go. SMET vehicle can carry up to 1,000 pounds of equipment for 60 miles in 72 hours, which could greatly reduce the burden of the gear and supplies that soldiers have to carry.

The Army Futures Command hopes to start fielding the SMET vehicle next year after successful testing with units from the 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne divisions, according to the Military.com.

Military.com, quoting Col. Tom Nelson, director for Robotics Requirements Division at MCDID, reported that the Army has been experimenting with the concept of robotic mules for more than a decade.

“The operational test demonstration really showed that the capability is ready,” Col. Tom Nelson told reporters.

10th Mountain Division is among the few divisions at the forefront of the U.S. Army’s modernization efforts, testing new equipment and tactics in order to fight and win on the battlefields of tomorrow.

four contender vehicles

Soldiers with the 101st Airborne and 10th Mountain divisions have been testing contender SMET vehicles over the last few months and said that it was a very quiet vehicle when it was in stealth mode.

“You can’t hear it 30, 40 feet away. If it’s nighttime, you would never. It sounds like a little RC car,” Sgt. Nathaniel Packard with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division said in a video released by 27th Public Affairs Detachment.

Also, Sgt. Malcolm Perkins, squad leader 1-32 IN, 1st BCT, added that they were able to use the SMET for just bringing extra stuff into the fight.

“Everyone had ATs, AT weapons, and extra rounds, right, inert rounds, and just being able to have that capability to take at least a few rounds off of a few soldiers’ backs was amazing,” said Malcolm Perkins.

The four contender vehicles that were tested: MRZR-X system from Polaris Industries Inc., Applied Research Associates Inc. and Neya Systems LLC; the Multi-Utility Tactical Transport from General Dynamics Land Systems; the Hunter Wolf from HDT Global; and the RS2-H1 system from Howe and Howe Technologies.

One of the contenders for SMET has a steering wheel, with both a driver’s seat and a passenger seat. So if a Soldier wanted to drive that vehicle, he could. Still, the Army requirement is that the SMET be able to operate unmanned, and all four vehicles provide that unmanned capability.

All four contenders include a small, simplistic kind of remote control that a Soldier can hand-carry to control the vehicle. One of those remotes was just a light-weight hand grip with a tiny thumb-controlled joystick on top. A Soldier on patrol could carry the light-weight controller at his side.

photo by C. Todd Lopez

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