South Korea is developing next-generation military robots that will mimic the movements and capabilities of birds, snakes, marine creatures and even insects on the battlefields of the future.
The Defence Acquisition Programme Administration (DAPA), which oversees the procurement of weapons systems for the military, has announced plans to develop “biomimetrics” equipment to assist the nation’s armed forces.
The plan calls for a number of “biobots” – robots that are based on real creatures – to be deployed as early as 2024, Yonhap News reported.
There is a recognition that the South Korean military will very soon need to rely more heavily on technology to defend the nation, with a falling birthrate meaning that fewer young men are available to do their mandatory national service, which ranges from 21 months in the army to 24 months in the air force.
In the initial stages, bird-like androids or swimming robots will be deployed to carry out reconnaissance operations, miniature mechanical flying devices will be able to provide information on the actions of an enemy force and robots that can move like a snake will be able to access constricted spaces.
As well as assisting in military operations, these devices will be able to assist in search-and-rescue operations and will have applications in areas affected by natural disasters.
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“Biometric robots will be a game-changer in future warfare and related technologies are expected to bring about great ripple effects throughout the defence industry”, Park Jeong-eun, a spokesman for the agency, said.
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The agency said it is turning to designs that have been inspired by the natural world because nature has engineered animals to survive and thrive in their environments over millions of years.
The South Korean military plans to work closely with domestic technology companies, which are widely seen as among the most advanced in the world in the areas of artificial intelligence, but have less of a focus on military applications.
In addition to the falling birthrate, there is growing resistance among many men to obligatory military service and the South Korean government has recently made it easier for some to avoid serving, such as by claiming that it contravenes their religious beliefs.
Others have claimed to be suffering mental illness or have put on so much weight that they are above the maximum limit for recruits. Another ruse that exempts a man from military service is tattoos that cover most of his body.
Nearly 600,000 men are serving in the South Korean military, with a further 3.1 million reservists, although neighbouring North Korea has a an estimated 945,000 active personnel and an additional 7.6 million men and women in reserve.