John Deere likely never envisioned his plow-making company from the 1840s being involved in robotic warfare in 2006, but that’s the next evolution for the Quad Cities-based company. Deere spokesman Bill Klutho says the Pentagon’s hired Deere to build what’s being called the R-Gator, a robotic six-wheeled battlefield utility vehicle. It can act as an unmanned scout, point person or perimeter guard. Klutho says you can plug in global positioning satellite data and tell it to go there, or mark several G-P-S locations and it will stop at all of them. It can also be programmed to follow a soldier. Klutho says the R-Gator, or Robot Gator, will be built in eastern Iowa and then shipped to Massachusetts where it’ll be given “artificial intelligence.” The company, I-Robot, has what it calls pack-bots in the field already in Iraq and Afghanistan. The R-Gator marries that machine to the existing Gator utility vehicles to create a new battlefield vehicle. It’s about nine-feet long and will cost about a quarter-million dollars each. Plans do -not- call for the R-Gator to be a weapons platform, but Klutho says it’s very versatile for a variety of dirty, dangerous tasks. It can carry one-thousand pounds of payload, whether that’s supplies or wounded soldiers who need medical attention. A full test vehicle should be done in mid-2005 with full production in 2006. The basic R-Gator will be built at the American-Iowa plant southwest of Dubuque in Cascade, a Deere subcontractor.
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