Future Shooting Ranges Offer Target Practice on Robots
You don’t have to be a firearms expert to know that the shooting range isn’t a perfect substitute for a real-life firefight. Unless you happen to find yourself in a shootout with a group of enemy mannequins or two-dimensional cutouts whose vital organs are helpfully labeled, shooting ranges are simplified abstractions that don’t look much like real-world warfare.
Just because the technology didn’t exist before doesn’t mean it does. A company called Marathon Targets created a solution here in 2020 as autonomous robots keep getting better. And it’s one of those sentient Terminator-style robots, when they finally arrive they probably won’t like them.
Transform shooting range
“Combat is the worst place to ever practice a life or death skill – especially when those ‘targets’ are shooting real bullets back at you,” said Ralph Petroff, president of Marathon Targets Digital Trends North American subsidiary. “It is against the time-honored principle to always ensure that you have fully trained in critical skills before you are sent into combat. Currently, unless they have trained with autonomous robots, shooters are sent into combat without ever firing at a realistic moving target – a fundamental lack of training with deadly consequences. “
Marathons autonomous robots will serve as target exercises for armed forces and police. The mobile robots, which resemble mannequins on high-performance segways, not only stand still and calmly accept the fate that lies ahead of them. When a robot is hit, those around it disperse, run (well, roll) for cover or organize a counterattack themselves.
“The autonomous targets have something in common with self-driving cars – lidar for navigation and collision avoidance as well as loudspeakers that simulate speech or military sound effects such as gunfire,” continued Petroff. “They can even abuse you in 57 different dialects. The robots can either act as an enemy force or as civilian spectators – or as hostages that are used as human shields. Their highly efficient electric motors and batteries can power 500-pound robots at human walking speed. [They will ] twitch and grunt when wounded, and even screech and fall when killed. “
Marathon Targets built its first target robots in 2008. Twelve years and five generations later, they’re still going strong. The robots are fitted with puncture-proof tires and armored to withstand millions of rounds from rifles and light machine gun bullets. Petroff said this was “no small matter in itself”.
Marathon robots have been used by the Australian armed forces, the US Department of Defense, Canadian special forces, the Slovenian and German armies, and various NATO and Middle Eastern countries. Most recently, the US Marine Corps used the robots for its “Range of the Future” training in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. In short, marathon robo goals are constantly gaining momentum – even if, as Petroff said, there is still room for even wider adoption.
“Disruptive technologies are always being pushed back by ‘traditionalists’,” he said. “This is especially true for radically disruptive technologies like autonomous infantry targets. All the most disruptive military technologies have been pushed back by traditionalists: steam-powered ships, machine guns, steel warships, planes, aircraft carriers and, most recently, even drones. All of them have had to put up with significant delays in the way things have always been done because of the radical changes they brought with them. So autonomous robots are in good company. “