Three Sydney University PhD students who developed Terminator-style robots will soon see their technology trialled by US Marines sharpshooters in a $57 million coup.
Alex Brooks, Alex Makarenko and Tobias Kaupp have been plugging away on the robots for eight years at their company, Marathon Robotics, which is based at Sydney's Australian Technology Park in Eveleigh.
The Rover robots, the first such "smart targets" to be adopted for training exercises by the US military, are armoured autonomous robots that look, move and behave like real people. Australian troops are already using them for training.
Teams of the robots can execute complex pre-planned scenarios and are intelligent enough to scatter and run for cover when a buddy robot is shot.
The robots, which weigh 150 kilograms, are based on the Segway platform. They do not need to be controlled with a joystick and can accelerate at up to 12.6km/h.
They use GPS and a scanning laser range-finder for navigation, positioning and obstacle detection and avoidance. The robots are networked so they can be monitored and given commands remotely.
Rover was developed in conjunction with the Department of Defence and with support from the federal and New South Wales governments. Brooks would not say how much each robot costs.
The robots can be used for scenarios including sniper training, hostage rescue, escalation-of-force decision-making and executive protection. The mannequin on top drops back when hit and is made from durable plastic so can withstand hundreds of shots.
"Our customers always stress that shooting a moving target is orders of magnitude more difficult than shooting a stationary or predictable target," said Makarenko, Marathon Robotics' chief technology officer.
"We fully expect that training with live ammunition on smart targets will substantially improve moving marksmanship."
NSW Treasurer and Minister for State and Regional Development, Eric Roozendaal, said Rover was a great example of "world-beating NSW technology".
He said the NSW government was helping Marathon Robotics target its technology to a range of international export markets including Europe.
My husband has had a go on these - I can actually say this now, it's known!
Apparently they're pretty good to train with - exactly as unpredictable as the person holding the remote decides to be - but creepy as fuck when they come whoooooshing up behind you afterwards to give you the armless plastic robot version of a kiss on the cheek...and it gets so much creepier when you realise what the sigs and blackhats - blackhats are support staff, basically, and ''sig' is shorthand for a signaller/communications guy - did as soon as they got their sticky little mitts on them!
You do an exercise with SkyNet Version 1.0 up there. Exercise ends, and naturally there's a debrief and a chance to mix up the robot programming for Round 2...but the final, unstated step in the previous program was for the robot in question to roll up behind you and for the voice circuits some smartarse sig put in to start working. Cue a tinny little voice right in your ear...
I LOVE YOU. WILL YOU BE MY FRIEND?
On one memorable occasion not too long ago, someone hooked them all up to blare the Collingwood FC theme song in perfect unison.