Exploring underground tunnels is hard work. If only the Army could make robots do it.

Picture this: You’re a soldier in the war against terror, and you’ve been dropped into a contested, mountainous area of Afghanistan with orders to discover any insurgent forces hiding in the nearby wilderness.

And by “wilderness” I mean “the thousands of miles of caves beneath the Afghan landscape.”

Even with your all your fancy, high-tech gadgets, that’s a dangerous proposition. Sure, you’ve got goggles that allow you to see in the dark, a uniform that keeps you cool in the blazing heat and a gun that fires fully automatic bursts of pure manifest destiny, but none of that will protect you from some guy lying in wait inside a cave with an AK-47 and a lot of rage.

Luckily, the military has a solution: robots.

Dubbed “Counter Tunnel Robotics,” this initiative is designed to fill the roles that traditionally go to brave soldiers. The tech was outlined at the recent Association For Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference:

The [Counter Tunnel Robotics] system is an innovative all-terrain mobility platform capable of accessing tunnel systems through a small (8 inch) borehole and traversing adverse tunnel terrain including vertical obstacles up to 2ft in height and chasms up to 2ft in length. The system’s function is to provide a platform capable of carrying a small sensor package while navigating and overcoming terrain obstacles inside the tunnel. Counter tunnel technologies are needed to support intelligence gathering and safety of troops and personnel in unmapped and unknown tunnel environments. The system is the initial step in achieving a fully autonomous counter tunnel system.

The really interesting bit is at the end there. That part about “a fully autonomous counter tunnel system.” While the early goal of this project is to develop ‘bots than can scout these circuitous tunnels, the endgame involves robots (with no human oversight) mapping tunnels and eliminating any hostile forces they might encounter.

In simpler terms, thinking robots dropped underground to do our fighting for us.

On the upside, this tech could potentially offer a huge boon to spelunkers hoping to map inhospitable holes like Ethiopia’s Sof Omar Cave or even caves on the moon.

On the downside, this military-funded Descent-analogue is pure nightmare fuel for anyone who would prefer to not be shot by an unfeeling metallic supersoldier within a dank hole.


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