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VR Interfaces: Black Knight


Overview of Black Knight
The Black Knight is a military-grade drone tank produced by BAE Systems. More a proof-of-concept vehicle than something intended for deployment in a war zone, it is a merger of artificial intelligence autonomous driving systems, lethal weaponry, and remote controlled operation. The theory behind it being that a human operator decides where the tank is to go, but the tank is smart enough to detect and analyse the nature of obstacles in its path; taking evasive action on its own initiative as required.

This then gives the tank the same lighting reflexes as a tank with human operators inside would have, without any actual risk to human life if it is attacked.

As such, the primary intended mission type for a Black Knight would be forays into an area that is too dangerous to send human troops into. The Black Knight is capable of recognising threats with machine vision systems, but is not capable of firing back on its own. Rather it alerts its human operator of the existence and nature of the threat via multiple cameras with freedom of movement, and waits for the operator to decide whether to return fire or not, and which weapon to use.

In this way, the problems inherent in giving current-generation AIs access to live weaponry are neatly sidestepped.

Every attempt is made to encrypt the radio link between the vehicle and the operator, however it is still possible for an intercept to be made by capturing the control station. This is because the control unit is itself portable. It is designed to be used inside a hummer or another tank, as well as the more standard option of control from within a building ten or twelve miles away (or even on another continent).

These mobile control stations allow a single human vehicle to control a swarm of three or four Black Knights, again to minimise potential human casualties in situations where poor radio reception makes control of the vehicles from a more remote location impossible. After all, a weakness of the whole concept of a radio-controlled vehicle is that if the vehicle enters an area which is impervious to radio signals, then the vehicle is essentially lost. By putting a control system for that specific vehicle into another vehicle alongside, control can be maintained even in such dead zones.

The risk hereof course being that if the controlling vehicle and its soldiers are captured rather than destroyed, the enemy also gains the ability to control the tanks.

BAE systems thought of that angle as well, and have modified the control systems accordingly. Whilst the mobile control systems can be set to control any Black Knight tank they have been authorised to control, the key is in that authorisation. Only the base station can authorise the mobile units, and the base station can revoke that authorisation. The base station of course, is usually safe within another country at the time, deep inside a major military base.

So, should a mobile station be captured, and control of one of the drone tanks be lost, the base control can deactivate that mobile station's authorisation within minutes, giving control of the tank back to the original owning side. Very unfortunate for those who had hyjacked it, if it is in the middle of their formation at the time so there is some value in letting a hostile force control the tank for a short period of time, which the flexibility of the control system allows for.

The tank itself is about the size of a M2 Bradley standard-type tank also made by BAE systems, and has a wide array of sensing systems, including multiple high sensitivity video cameras in different locations, a Laser Radar (LADAR) system embedded inside the turret, a forward-facing thermal imaging camera and GPS.

Weapon-wise the Black Knight is equipped with 25-mm cannon and coaxial 7.62-mm machine gun, both derived from the armament of its Bradley sister tank. In fact, in order to reduce maintenance costs, a deliberate decision was made to include many automotive components from the Bradley. A part to repair one, can be used in the other with equal efficiency. As Bradley tanks are used in many modern militaries, this is an obvious selling point.

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