Israeli robotics expert: West 10 years ahead of ‘enemy’ in warfare technology

The future of warfare lies within the use of robotics, says CEO of Tel Aviv-based robotics company that recently secured a $25 million contract with the Pentagon.

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November 29, 2015 22:55
4 minute read.
israel robot

The unmanned micro tactical ground robot (MTGR) developed by Roboteam. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The West is at least 10 years ahead of “the enemy” in terms of warfare technology including robotics, assesses Israeli robotics specialist Yosi Wolf.

Wolf, the co-CEO and founder of the Tel Aviv-based company Roboteam, estimates that the scientific capabilities of Israel and other Western nations will consistently remain about a decade ahead of terrorist elements.

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“If, one day, ISIS will have robots - our robots will beat theirs,” he recently told The Jerusalem Post.

According to Wolf, Israel exemplifies this technological dominance, which it maintains through its advantages in human and capital resources along with governmental and intelligence collaborations.

“Robotics is a breakthrough, it’s a game-changer,” said Wolf, explaining that “for many years simple infantry didn’t have an evolution.”

Noting the likes of the Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah, he adds that terrorists already possess the resources that ground forces have traditionally used - weapons, communications technology and night vision devices.

The future of warfare lies within the use of robotics, Wolf foresees, as military-use robots are currently undergoing very high growth.



However, Wolf downplays the idea that the world will soon witness a “Terminator” situation with independently-operating robots taking over for humans in armed conflict. He projects that it will take some 20 years before fully-autonomous robots proliferate.

“The Robocop style will take many, many years to come - it’s less relevant,” says Wolf, who has more than 12-years of background in the robotics industry.



Significantly more relevant he says, is the use of semi-autonomous robots that require a human component for “important decisions.” Such mechanisms work alongside humans instead of replacing them. However, they can take “low-level decisions” related to operations such as avoiding obstacles and navigating.

“The main idea of robotics today is to reduce risk and make the operation more effective,” he told the Post, defining effective as reducing manpower, life-loss and corresponding expenses along with cutting-down time to locate targets and determine action.

Turning to present-day, Wolf says his company’s robots are the most effective in urban security and defense and anti-terrorism, where the bulk of wartime casualties now occur.

Roboteam aims to have thousands of its tactical robotic systems deployed in daily use by infantry forces. Founded in 2009 by Wolf and co-CEO Elad Levy, both of whom served as IAF captains and company commanders, Roboteam now has more than 70 employees in Israel and the US.

Roboteam has developed a “family” of three unmanned ground vehicles  - the pocket-sized, three-pound Individual Robotic Intelligence System (IRIS); its flagship man-carried, 20-pound Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR); and the 400-pound heavy-payload carrying Professional Robot (Probot). The devices can operate and communicate between themselves, using the emerging wireless mesh technology.

“We’re not inventing the wheel, we’re improving the wheel. We’re taking the best technologies in the world off the shelf and we’re innovating in the integration,” Wolf says of his company’s DNA. “We are like the smartphones of the old robots - smaller, more tactical and easier to use.”

The company serves as a prime contractor for the Israeli and American governments, and recently secured a five-year, $25 million contract with the US Air Force, which can yield 250 robotic systems.

Also, in the aftermath of this month's deadly shooting and bombing attacks in Paris that left nearly 130 people dead, Roboteam has seen “much more aggressive demand for [its] equipment.” The company is working with customers in France and other unnamed European countries, Wolf asserts.



Robots are capable of literally serving as the extended arm of infantry operators, Wolf says, pointing to threats posed on Israel’s borders by Hamas in Gaza and the over four-year civil war in Syria. 

When time permits, robotic technology can assist anti-terrorism units needing to gather situational awareness and manipulate the circumstances when capabilities such as tunnel and ground-clearing, detonation and biological material sensory are needed.

“Most of the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan were from booby traps and explosive devices, so it is very natural to deal with this kind of threat with robots,” Wolf explains. “This kind of equipment allows you to work in that kind of environment and yet allows you to stay in a safe position.”

“You can see the same kind of threat in France today, because [the recent suicide bombers were] using explosives, you can see it in Israel, Afghanistan and in Iraq,” he says of the nature of conflict that deals with anti-terrorism and urban warfare as opposed to open-field battlefields.

Roboteam collaborates heavily with the IDF, and the military background of its employee helps create a better understanding of the technology the company develops.

Although Israel unfortunately is situated in a conflict-ridden region, Wolf notes that as a result, it has a lead in practical robotics as the technologies can be tested on a daily level, providing more reliable and quicker results.

While Roboteam’s products are not designed to defeat the enemy, they are made to bolster the security and defense sector as an additional tool.

“We like robots, we don’t like war,” Wolf admits, acknowledging that the future indicates that his work will be ever-so pertinent. “This is the game, and we must win... as Israelis, and in general in anti-terrorism warfare.”

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