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Biological vs a robotic army?

  1. May 12, 2014 #1
    I'm planning a semi-hard SF (around Mohs scale 4).

    I wonder, what can be the weaknesses of a robotic army? That enables to defeat it in urban warfare, by rebel groups, who managed to access some unexpected cutting edge technology, and some support from regular armies.

    So far, my ideas :

    1. A good number of robots are cheap ones built rather to suppress a riot, than counter a high profile army. They are dependant on a mainframe, that can be their weakness, together with anti electronic warfare and hacking.

    2. Use a number of scarecrows equipped by fake sniper guns to reveal to positions of drone snipers - they dont learn from their mistakes... (although their human commanders can, but still slower)

    3. That is a rather weird one... i'd like to note, that when i said the rebels had access to some cutting edge technology, it includes alienware... genetically modified wasp hives that are attracted to lidars and to the sound of propellers and attack them in mass, with the help of some strong bio acid, or bio nitroglicerin.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 12, 2014 #2


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    Focused EMP beams to disable the robot's electronics without disabling your own.

    In my opinion, your #1 mainframe is SO 1950's ... it should be avoided.
  4. May 12, 2014 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    More than likely a robotic army would be a distributed system being directed by one of the members and if taken out by another member similar to a squad leader. Check out robotic swarms for ideas on how this might look.
  5. May 12, 2014 #4


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    I am assuing this is the robot army of an invading Alien force. as such you should assume that in terms of robotics and and programing they should be more advanced then what we can currently do. To that end the robots should be able to process tasks and act indipendantly even if there is a central disbatch overseeing them. Blocking the signal wont stop them but it would force them to rely on thier own processing power rather then receiving new orders from disbatch.

    An EMP is always a good start as Phinds suggested, however its easily conceivable that they would be shielded as that is something we can easily do today, The EMP can still work but it would have to be extremely powerful so that can set up some drama for the heroes, perhaps there are a limited number of EMPS powerful enough, maybe setting off the burst would signal their location ect...

    As for the Robots not learning that is a stretch, we may not have sentient AI today but we have programs that are capable of learning in the realms of its mission. for example Decent chess programs can learn your moves and adapt to your style in short order. A tactical program would quickly figure out the scarecrow routine.

    All that being said and done...if your Heroes have access to Jeff Goldbloom and a Mac Book you should be all set. ;)
  6. May 12, 2014 #5
    "In my opinion, your #1 mainframe is SO 1950's"

    Well, a present day spy drone could be hacked because it was dependant on GPS, as far as i know.

    No the robots arent invading alien force, although some could have upgrades with things learned from the alien stuff... but still a number of them could be still a lower version rather meant for riot control, vs badly equipped and not so well organised civilans.

    (At least in the beginning that power employing robots also has human marines for they are cheaper at least than robots capable to do every possible task... at least i think so this far)
    Last edited: May 12, 2014
  7. May 13, 2014 #6
    About the bombardier beetles : "The reaction is very exothermic, and the released energy raises the temperature of the mixture to near 100 °C, vaporizing about a fifth of it. "

    Theoretically, could explosions with a similar scale damage a propeller, if the insects attack in mass?
  8. May 13, 2014 #7
    robotic armies likely require vast amounts of maintenance.
  9. May 13, 2014 #8
    Well that is also true, the question is rather what could robots do cheaper, more effective then humans, not what could they possibly do?
    (Especially if future Earth is an overpopulated place where lots of people are unemployed, living in poverty.
    More developed robots are rather useful in space and lifeless planets.)
  10. May 13, 2014 #9


    Staff: Mentor

    I imagine that a robot army of the future would have the means of maintaining itself by redistributing the parts of broken robots to fix others.
  11. May 14, 2014 #10
    "I imagine that a robot army of the future would have the means of maintaining itself by redistributing the parts of broken robots to fix others. "

    Good idea, there can be dedicated maintenance bots, although at least, IMHO maintaining THEM is a rather human job.

    More than likely a robotic army would be a distributed system being directed by one of the members and if taken out by another member similar to a squad leader."

    I had another idea, if one squadron member hacked up, it can turn against the squadron leader, and take the lead itself, and order the others to change the control codes.
    I thought about one had the "genius" idea, to build spacecraft with swappable fuel tank (after a pirate barely managed to outrun the missiles launched from a frigate because of the refuelling time. I read they have plans to replace the entire battery of an electric car to spare an hour of refuelling)
    And they get a well prepared fuel tank...
  12. May 14, 2014 #11


    Staff: Mentor

    It would be good if your story is more nuanced. Look at how real armies have medics, aid stations and surgical units... Look at the mechanisation of the army foot soldiers, jeeps, trucks, half-tracks, tanks, artillery... Imagine now how much more advanced but still the same.

    In your story, each robot could do limited repairs on itself, more extensive repairs on fellow squad members, ... If the medic is taken out another robot can assume the medic role... Distributed networks allow for decentralized sharing of roles and responsibilities.

    You will have a lot of fun using your imagination and military observational skills to craft a cool story. For me the best kinds of sci-fi stories are those that extrapolate current tech into the future while staying true to most of the physics and the reality of how things work.
  13. May 14, 2014 #12
    "In your story, each robot could do limited repairs on itself, more extensive repairs on fellow squad members, ... If the medic is taken out another robot can assume the medic role.."

    If i look at present day robots, i see that they are very good in one task, but unable to do other things.
    Asimov speculated that androids will be so great, as we already built every kind of machines and tools, and androids can operate all of them.
    It looks like in reality, we automatise the specialized tools, auto vacuum cleaner, self driving car etc.

    Extrapolating this, i can rather imagine a robotic army of highly specialised units, like a hive of ants.

    Even if the software of the shooter bot could handle repair, i think it is only equipped with a gun, and dont have human like arms, or other specialised tools to perform a repair job.
    The repair bot has this, and they want to keep it away from enemy fire.

    (And minor alienware upgrades will be pretty limited... most of them held by the rebels.)
  14. May 14, 2014 #13
    I was thinking, maybe when the villain face defeat, one suggests to employ atomics...
    But i wonder, could a robotic army really "survive" a nuclear war more than humans? On the first level yes, they are more resistant to radiaton... but on the second, it is enough to destroy all fusion power plants, without power recharge, they shut down, while humans can still survive on areas far from fallout.
  15. May 14, 2014 #14


    Staff: Mentor

    Earlier Phinds mentioned EMP (in this case NEMP) and your robotic army could be affected by it if they use electronics:

  16. May 15, 2014 #15
    Another thread about EMP was closed, so i dont want to get into details too much, military grade bots will surely have protection against it, of course no protection is 100%, and they can still rely more than humans on radars and radio communications (today even spy drones and quadrocopter swarms are dependant on theese things, of course lots of things can be solved, it depends on money, more developed electronics are also more sensitive usually)

    I also thought, that heat seekers arent really efficient against infrantry, but robots emit more waste heat, and more expensive, human soldiers can launch lots of mini heat seekers.
  17. Dec 3, 2014 #16


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    Robots are good at chess, but fail when the rules of the game change unexpectedly.
  18. Dec 11, 2014 #17
    If the robot army is running around on legs they will have some of the same susceptibilities of a human army. They may be able to run through mud faster than a human being, but it will still slow them down. Remember the Alamo, and remember that well dug in defensive positions can truly wreak havoc on an army stupid enough to attack one. Sometimes the best offense is a good defense. Arrange terrain where you have a clear line of fire and obstacles to slow the robots down.

    The other thing that occurs to me is that robots may be harder to kill, but if you can access their software they're easier to befriend. Some robotically inclined version of Anonymous would be the nightmare of dictators who depend on a robot armies.
  19. Dec 11, 2014 #18
    Study the history of the Hussite Wars and Hussite commander Jan Žižka, one of only a handful of military commanders to have never lost a battle. You may be able to upgrade Hussite tactics for your urban army.
  20. Dec 12, 2014 #19
    -crippling overspecialisation - wonderful sniper robots, but can't cross river (who needs that? ;) )
    -poor security at computer system - hacking everything would be excessive, but taking over a few and partially paralysing coordination with DoS sounds good or cancelling a few identification certificate which would make some units being perceived as foe..
    -how supplies are provided (ammo, fuel, spare parts)? How much fuel is being used per day of fight and is possible to supply that? Scorched earth policy with setting on fire all petrol stations?
    -how identification system works? Visual identification relies on picture processing which can means either being too careful and ignoring targets or massive friendly fire.
    -strategy problems - you fight with AI - persistent attacks on some selected, well fortified targets instead of trying to ex. encircle

    -how cost effectiveness is taken in to account by robot? Are they designed not to level cities that are to be conquered?
  21. Dec 12, 2014 #20


    Staff: Mentor

    I remember an old 1950's era sci-fi movie where the evil robots from another planet were disabled by a ultrasonic sound that cracked some crystal inside them.

    Other robot limitations might be:
    - communication with other robots for coordinated attacks
    - the star trek idea of using spread-spectrum weapons against the borg as they couldn't adapt to the changing frequency quickly enough
    - if they used digital comm then perhaps malware could be injected into the transmission
    - if they used line-of-sight transmission like laser comm then you could beamsplit the signal and inject something or delay/block the signal...

    In your story, have a convincing tech feature where you know it can be subverted but just don't tell the reader until the time is right and the characters figure it out.

    The cleverer the solution the more people will like your story.

    I read one sci-fi book by Timothy Zahn where he described space battles with many Sun Tzu like stratagems. One was an impenetrable shield around a planet no one knew how to subvert it. Admiral Thrawn placed a innocuous space freighter inside the shield before the attack. When he fired at the planet he actually fired at the freighter (bounced off the planetary shield) and the freighter simultaneously fired at the planet. The leaders were shocked to see that someone breached their impenetrable shield and promptly surrendered never realizing the ruse.

    I think the idea actually came from the Bible story about the walls of Jericho where there were supposedly spies inside the city that undermined the walls so that when the trumpets blew a portion of the walls fell down but the people inside felt it was the work of God.


    The Thrawn Trilogy:

    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
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