, now they get to drive diggers, too.
Defence company QinetiQ has just developed a kit that can turn Bobcat loaders into fully functioning robots in just 15 minutes.
The military diggers will be used to tackle increasingly large - and increasingly lethal - roadside bombs and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Iraq and Afghanistan.
No attachment for automatic tea-and-biscuits deployment
The robotics kit for Bobcat loaders includes seven cameras, a microphone to allow a remote operator to hear sound from the cab, three radio options, three control options (laptop, wearable and table-top), green and yellow warning lights to signal "robotic engagement", an anti-rollover warning system, and emergency manual shut-off switches in case the digger should attempt to engage the enemy (or its operator) directly.
The loader is intended for use with large, deep-buried IEDs that require actual excavation to dislodge or a bucket to lift and remove. In Afghanistan, where there are reported to be more than 100 million mines, Bobcat loaders could also be used to remotely defuse mines on building sites.
The kit's ruggedised electronics are rated at 70C to handle the blazing desert sun and have passed rigorous military environmental testing. Cameras include five mounted on the roof, one in the cab and one on the vehicle looking at the load. Night vision is provided by infra-red illumination and thermal imaging, plus white lights on the Bobcat loader itself.
"The pan/tilt camera positioned where an operator's head is normally located, along with ambient sounds from the loader, gives the user the sense of operating from the seat," said Mike Melroe of Bobcat. Upon completion of a mission, the kit is removed and the machine reverts to "in the seat" operation.