Military robots make great friends

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

IED robot
Some military operatives compare their robot relationship to working with a lovable pet. Losing military dogs or bots can be very emotional.

The purpose of military robots is to execute dangerous jobs for humans, saving their lives in the process. The way I see it, robots are the perfect war tools. After all, they often go into battle with super senses soldier don’t have and if they die, the bots can be easily replaced with another lifeless piece of metal!

Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. However, according to Julie Carpenter from the University of Washington, human-robot interactions are similar to any other friendship, and it’s a dangerous connection that can cost the lives of soldiers.

Do servicemen not realize the droids are just hard machines that can’t feel pain, let alone recognize friends? Of course they do, yet 23 operatives from the military’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams explain it’s difficult not to get attached. EOD units work regularly with robots specially designed to defuse bombs, so the soldiers become familiar with the machines. “They almost become like a team member,” says operator “Ben,” whose name has been changed to protect his identity. Another operative says that watching the way a bot moves reminds him of a person because the gestures are surprisingly human-like.

Since soldiers sometimes consider these machines to be “friends,” it’s not unusual to hold mini droid funerals when one “dies.” In fact, it’s common to see heartbreaking signs that read, “Why did you kill me? Why?” To the military personnel, losing a robot is similar to the death of a human team member. “They were very clear it was a tool, but at the same time, patterns in their responses indicated they sometimes interacted with the robots in ways similar to a human or pet,” Carpenter said. However, this emotional connection can interfere with a soldier’s life and death decision processes: should he send his bot to disable a bomb, or should he save his “friend”?

Relationships with droids can end up costing the lives of brave soldiers. “You don’t want someone to hesitate using one of these robots if they have feelings toward the robot that goes beyond a tool,” said Carpenter. “If you feel emotionally attached to something, it will affect your decision-making.”

Image of IED robot courtesy of Jeremy L. Wood and the US Navy.