Robot Warriors In Iraq

This 250-pound robot called the Warrior could be in Iraq by 2009 and will be used to carry ammunition or wounded soldiers.
The sniper nests and IED-laced roads of Iraq have posed deadly challenges for the U.S. military. The result has been speedy development of soldiers that know nothing about fear or danger: the combat robot.

"It's a tremendous capability to put a robot where you do not want to put a man," said Jim Braden, of the Army's Joint Robotics Program.

Never before have robots played such a wide role in a ground war, reports CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell. Five thousand robots are working alongside U.S. forces, finding booby traps or searching for the enemy.

"The real trend right now is the infantry and maneuver forces looking at, 'what can a robot do for me,'" said Braden.

That demand has forced technicians to improvise and use parts found on store shelves. Some robot monitors have been purchased at Radio Shack. Certain controllers are from video games.

The Pentagon plans to spend nearly $2 billion over the next five years on robots, ranging in size from a multi-ton minesweeper to tiny devices now used by Special Forces.

Robots in Iraq and Afghanistan have already disarmed nearly 10,000 IEDs. One of the most widely used is built by the same Massachusetts company that has sold millions of robotic vacuum cleaners to American consumers.

IRobot is now one of the chief suppliers of robots to the U.S. military. Their devices have grown in size too, like the Warrior, shown exclusively to CBS News.

"This is a serious robot," said Russ Dyer of IRobot, referring to the Warrior. "This is a 250 pound robot that will be able to run a 4-minute mile."

The Warrior could be in Iraq by 2009, transporting ammunition or wounded soldiers. But another robot recently sent to Iraq is lethal.

It's called Swords and CBS News has learned three of these armed robots could see their first combat very soon. But the military insists it is not unleashing a mindless killing machine. A soldier must press the fire button.

"You need a man in the loop," said Braden. "There has to be a human deciding if there's going to be ordinance going downrange."

But the ability for robots to think for themselves - what designers call "autonomy" - may not be far away.

The Army is already testing supply robots that move across the battlefield without a human operator.

"It's what we call disruptive technology," said Dyer of IRobot. "It's going to change the way we fight, the way we live - it's going to change our entire lives."