Soldiers Must Learn to Trust Robotic Technology

Soldiers Must Learn to Trust Robotic Technology

Panelists at Global Force
Photo by: AUSA/Jared Lieberher

As robots are integrated into the operational environment, soldiers will need to shift from a mindset of doing it all to trusting the new technology and understanding its potential, according to senior Army leaders.

Maj. Gen. Curtis Buzzard, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Moore, Georgia, formerly known as Fort Benning, said he observed the human dynamic at play in a recent training scenario involving robotic platforms.

“Interestingly, I think the commander, if he were to tell you what he thought at the beginning and what he thought at the end, or how he was employing the capability, he was reticent to lose it, he was worried about the quadruped dog. It looks like a dog. I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but he didn't want to put it in harm’s way” Buzzard said of the company-minus experimentation force that’s been using the technology at Fort Moore for about nine months.

“It really is a mindset shift,” he said at a March 27 panel discussion on human-machine integration at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium and Exposition in Huntsville, Alabama.

A mental shift will become part of a new decision-making process that could see commanders and soldiers assessing whether they should send a robot or a soldier into harm’s way. As they work more frequently with robotics, soldiers will better understand other capabilities that could be useful on the battlefield.

Buzzard pointed to the value of demonstrations during the recent Project Convergence experiment at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. “It really helps a whole lot of other people visualize how this capability can make our formations better,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Robert Rasch, director of the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, said that as Project Convergence progressed, soldiers began to find ways to integrate robotic platforms into their maneuvers. “The confidence in the system grew tremendously … because soldiers understood the capabilities and, just as important, the limitations, of the technologies they had,” Rasch said.

Soldiers adapted their techniques for using robots after seeing what they are capable of, Rasch said. Confidence in the technology will be gained through training and multiple repetitions, he said. “I think that’s an important thing that we do early on in this effort, is involve those soldiers, to continue to involve them through this development, so they build confidence over time,” Rasch said.

Panelist John Brennan, a general manager with Scale AI, said the Army must examine its cultural bias toward the status quo as it integrates robotics on the battlefield. The Army must “fundamentally rethink” ingrained assumptions that humans will do everything and reconsider the integration of robotics on a new level, he said.

“It’s not soldier touch points, it’s robot touch points,” Brennan said, noting that robots will affect network capacity, use more electrons than humans and be the subject of heavy resistance from a bureaucracy that doesn’t change easily.

“It’s going to take extremely high persistent degrees of leadership at every level to overcome that status quo bias,” Brennan said.