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British military AI can scan its environment for threats and relay location to soldiers

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A British-made military AI that uses sensors to scan urban environments and pick out hostile threats is being tested by Canadian soldiers on the streets of Montreal.

The technology, developed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and UK industry partners, is known as ‘Sapient’ and was shown to be capable of making autonomous decisions.

These included what and how to monitor activities, as they searched a mock urban battlefield in the Canadian city and flagged dangers to soldiers taking part in the experiment.

The sensors, which were loaded on planes above the city, were able to autonomously scan the environment for enemy advances and suspicious activity and beam the information back down to troops.

Current in-service technology sees troops having to man live feeds from systems similar to CCTV cameras to monitor enemy movement during urban operations on complex city streets. The Sapient tech takes that load off the soldier and reduces the risk of human error, as well as reducing troops in the operations room – freeing them up for other military activity.

The sensors were put to the test in Canada as part of the Contested Urban Environment experiment (‘CUE 18’) alongside a whole host of experimental tech from a range of nations, including robotic exoskeleton suits to help soldiers with the burden of heavy loads, night vision and surveillance systems.

With current in-service technology, troops have to man live feeds from systems similar to CCTV cameras to monitor enemy movement during urban operations on complex city streets.

The new tech, developed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and UK industry partners, takes that load off the soldier and reduces the risk of human error, as well as reducing troops in the operations room - freeing them up for other military activity.

Defence Minister Stuart Andrew said: “This British system can act as autonomous eyes in the urban battlefield. This technology can scan streets for enemy movements, so troops can be ready for combat with quicker, more reliable information on attackers hiding around the corner.

“Investing millions in advanced technology like this will give us the edge in future battles. It also puts us in a really strong position to benefit from similar projects run by our allies as we all strive for a more secure world.”

Over 150 government and industry scientists and more than 80 Canadian troops have been working in Montreal on the experiment for three weeks, culminating in a complex exercise on the streets and other locations around the city.

Two additional experiments are being planned for 2019 in the US and again 2020 in the UK. Technology tested during this time could be available to military personnel by 2025.

In June, the British military began testing a new app for communicating on the battlefield which was loaded onto Samsung phones. 

You may also be interested in ‘This AI life: ensuring our AI future works for us’, which takes place on October 3 2018 at Savoy Place, London.

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