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US military using ‘drone buggies’ to patrol Africa camps

The U.S. military is using an unmanned robotic vehicle to patrol around its camps in the Horn of Africa.

The remote controlled vehicle is the result of a 30-year plan after military chiefs approved the concept of a robotic security system in 1985.


Eric Summers | U.S. Air Force

Now the Mobile Detection Assessment and Response System, known as MDARS, are carrying out patrols in the east African country of Djibouti, under the control of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

The area is known as home to a number of hostile militant groups including the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab.

An operator sits in a remote location away from the vehicle watching the terrain via a camera link which is fixed to the chassis.

U.S. military software engineer Joshua Kordanai said in a video presentation that the vehicle drives itself, freeing the remote operator to monitor video.

"The vehicle has an intruder detection payload, consisting of radar, a night vision camera, a PTZ [pan-tilt-zoom] camera and two-way audio, so the system will be able to detect motion," he added.

Contractors who work for the MDAR's manufacturer, LSA Autonomy, are employed to operate the equipment

One report prices the cost of an earlier version of the military 'drone buggy' at $600,000 each.

However the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)said in 2010 that use of the robot will result in cost in infrastructure such as towers, lights, and trenching.

Lead operator James Bowder, who is stationed with the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, said in the military video that the 'robot buggy' was a reassuring demonstration of presence around the camp's perimeter.

"It can go in to harm's way as oppose to a soldier or an airman.

"The patrol activity that it does conveys that there is a physical presence along the perimeter and within the facility hopefully to deter any would be intruders."

According to the NNSA the first MDARS unit was manufactured in 2009 and has since been used on domestic U.S. military bases.