Aug. 6, 2012 at 2:13 PM ET
When soldiers are wounded on the battlefield, commanders have to weigh whether it's worth it to risk more lives by sending in a rescue chopper. One way to save lives by reducing secondary casualties? Send in a robot with rotor blades instead.
In a recently posted solicitation to small businesses, the Army lists best candidates for the airframe, Wired notes, including current unmanned aircraft such as the Kaman K-Max and copters such as the Sikorsky Blackhawk, which can be modified for remote control.
The K-Max looks particularly promising since it is already flying resupply missions in Afghanistan.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the use of robotic helicopters for medical evacuations is trust, according to Wired.
One potential solution under development by Urban Aeronautics is to remotely pipe in the voice of a medic to help soothe a panicked patient. The company is behind the AirMule, a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that’s also on the Army’s solicitation list.
If such a helicopter is put in place on the battlefield — winning planning proposals will receive two years and up to $1 million to develop a working prototype — the same robots could also be put to work in civilian environments (think rescues during a natural disaster or terrorist attack).
Such widespread use, in turn, could help shape public perception on the safety robotic transport and open the door to a future where we are all driven around by robot chauffeurs — to work, soccer practice and the bar, as well as the emergency room.