Science and Technology Monitor Caught in a BEAR hug
科技 观察家 落入BEAR怀抱
Robotics: A newly designed robot can recover casualties from battlefields, and might also be able to make itself useful to soldiers in other ways
KILLING a soldier removes one enemy from the fray. Wounding him removes three: the victim and the two who have to carry him from the battlefield. T
hat cynical calculation lies behind the design of many weapons that are intended to incapacitate rather than annihilate.
But robotics may change the equation.
The Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot, or BEAR for short, is, in the words of Gary Gilbert of the United States Army's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Centre (TATRC),
在美国陆军远程医疗与先进技术研究中心（TATRC）工作的加里?吉尔伯特（Gary Gilbert）说：战场协助撤离机器人（Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot，简称BEAR）是
"a highly agile and powerful mobile robot capable of lifting and carrying a combat casualty from a hazardous area across uneven terrain".
When it is not saving lives, it can perform difficult and repetitive tasks, such as loading and unloading ammunition.
The current prototype BEAR is a small, tracked vehicle with two hydraulic arms and a set of video cameras that provide a view of its surroundings to its operator via a wireless link.
It has been developed by TATRC in collaboration with Vecna Technologies, a company based in Maryland that invented the robot.
Daniel Theobald, BEAR's inventor and Vecna's boss, says versatility is at the heart of the robot's design.
"It would be completely impractical if you had robots with a sole duty to rescue soldiers, because they would spend most of their time unused," he says.
"The whole idea from the start was to design a general-purpose robot."
The BEAR's operator can control the robot in two ways.
One, a joystick, can be embedded into the grip of a rifle and manoeuvred by the soldier's fingertip when he is holding his weapon to his shoulder.
The advantage of this is that he does not need to put his gun down to rescue his comrades.
The other means of control, a special glove designed by AnthroTronix, another Maryland firm, can sense the wearer's hand movements and direct the BEAR accordingly.
If, for example, the gloved hand moves to the left, the robot will follow.
If the hand moves backwards, the robot will slow down or stop.
If the glove's wearer closes his fist, the robot takes that as an instruction to grip an object with its arms.
Over the past year BEAR has been tested at the army's Infantry Centre Manoeuvre Battle Laboratory in Fort Benning, Georgia. It has shown that it can travel at around 12mph (19kph) across a flat surface.
It can also move over soil, sand and gravel, through trees and inside buildings, albeit at lower speeds.
Several more years of tests are planned (this is the army, after all), but Dr Gilbert is optimistic that BEAR will come through them.
If it does, soldiers will be able to get on with their primary job of killing the enemy, without having to worry so much about what the enemy has done to their friends.