MAARS, short for Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System, is QinetiQ North America's latest product in the SWORDs line. Designed to replace the originals, which had teething problems in the war in Iraq, mainly a lack of trust in their operations.
MAARS is a beefier model robot, with considerably more automation technology than its predecessor. Again, it is designed as a war machine, intended to reduce friendly human casualties by putting robots on the front line.
This system is modular, and allows hot-swapping of components. Similar to the older version, it can carry machine guns in various calibres, grenade throwers, even rocket launchers capable of taking out a tank.
Where it differs to its predecessor however, is in two ways: The inclusion of a rear storage compartment, and of a base mounted manipulator arm. The arm can quickly replace the turret mounted weaponry. This means less soldiers on the battlefront, as it can essentially re-arm itself.
It comes with tracks that can traverse all terrain, including stairs, and it is also capable of using wheels to increase speed and further reduce noise.
Additional features include up to seven cameras with multi-modal capabilities. In the weapons-configured system, the operator always sees where the weapon is pointed in relation to themselves and other friendly forces, due to a two-way communication system that taps into the military channels, and confers with the operator and GPS-enabled friendly troops. Range is up to one kilometre.
The system does require an operator - it is not fully autonomous. The operator tells it where to go, and MAARS decides its own path to get there, steering round bushes, trees, rubble, vehicles and intact walls as its machine-vision directs. It will paint a potential target, but wait for the operator to take control for a kill-shot. Operator control is encrypted, to mitigate potential for hostile control of a robot- and each robot is a different encryption.
Combat-wise, it includes a loudspeaker for shouting at non-compliant humans and "a green, eye-safe laser to dazzle people". It can also fire riot beanbags or gas bombs out of its 40mm quad-barrel grenade launcher. Alternatively, the same launcher will happily take high explosive or shrapnel grenades, with the same pin-point accuracy.
The first model has already rolled off the production line, and been purchased by the US military for use within its own borders as a counter-terrorism unit.
It seems the future of warfare is still very much, a robotic approach.