The war in Iraq is (mostly) over. The war in Afghanistan is (slowly, incompletely) ending. And yet the new battlefield robots produced by a decade of war are having an easier transition to peacetime than some human veterans. The robots are simply trading their fatigues for the blue uniforms of American police.
That's what an official with the Defense Logistics Agency told a conference in Washington last week. Any police or homeland security department with a counterterrorism or anti-drug mission and the ability to execute an arrest warrant can be eligible to get its very own robot. Dan Arnold, a regional manager of the agency's Disposition Office, says that "hundreds" of war-hardened ‘bots will be donated to police departments, National Defense reported.
To be clear, the cops aren't about to get battle-hardened unmanned aircraft. Police Departments will have to buy their own spy drones, complete with all the regulatory restrictions the Federal Aviation Administration imposes.
Instead, the likeliest robotic police recruits are ground robots, used for tactical surveillance or for explosives-handling. Things like the Throwbot, a small robot that looks like a Shake Weight and literally tossed by troops around corners to expand their fields of vision. Or the PackBot and Talon machines, which have become so central to bomb disposal in places like Afghanistan. (Although it's worth noting that many PDs already have these bots, thanks to some pretty generous - some would say excessive - homeland security grants.)
But the Defense Logistics Agency isn't exactly sure yet which robots it's going to give away. It's going to depend, in part, on a surplus of particular robots in military depots.
"At this time, DLA Disposition Services does not know which robots in particular will be deemed excess as that decision is being made by the Army," Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, a Defense Department spokeswoman, tells Danger Room. "The item manager for these robots, located at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, will determine which models can be declared excess based on operational requirements and sufficient numbers of newer models presently in stock."
There's a larger trend at work: Today's military tech is very often tomorrow's civilian police tech. Miami-Dade police already fly a spy robot developed for the Pentagon; troops nicknamed it the Flying Beer Keg. And the Department of Homeland Security really likes the military's ability to see giant swaths of land all at once.
Humble suggestion: If cop shops are eager to get a hold of military tech, maybe they can also hire the flesh-and-blood veterans who know how to operate it.