(Toy) “Trucks to Troops” Fights Land Mines
Military grade robots may have swarmed into war theaters as a US “Army of the Grand Robotic”, but the ingenuity and charity of hobbyists still has a place on America’s front lines. In the 2000s front-line troops started using remote-controlled toys then US military made a big push to investigate and destroy suspected land mines using military-grade robots instead.
Americans are a tinkering lot by nature. The remote-controlled toy trucks that some troops were already using to nudge suspicious packages, are a classic example. They work even better with a weatherproof wireless camera on board, for looking under vehicles. Which is what software engineer Ernest Fessenden of Rochester, MN put together for his deployed brother, Chris, with the help of a local store called Everything Hobby…
It worked, it saved lives, and the requests began. Soon, Trucks to Troops was a full-fledged 501c3 organization, distributing its $500 hobby projects to others on the front lines.
Fessenden is very clear about his project’s limitations:
“We’re not trying to replace anything. We’re just trying to give guys another tool, and if they can use it, great! And… [if not,] pass it on to someone else who might be able to use it. If nobody can use it, well, it’s a toy: Play with it to pass the time.”
It’s tempting to ascribe stories like this to the same trends driving “the consumerization of I.T.,” and that’s partially true. Moore’s Law of processor power, and related developments, do continue to place more and more powerful capabilities in the hands of backyard hobbyists. As the Lanchester Square theory explained long ago, quantity has a quality all its own – and this is coming to a battlefield near you. More and more militaries are taking their procurement leads from advances in the civilian sector, or just buying and using items off the shelf. So, too, are their irregular adversaries.
On the flip side, the gap between Fessenden’s creation, and even a small robot counterpart built for military-grade durability, secure communications, etc., remains large. It will be interesting to see how long this remains true, but for now, it is true.
The bridge between these truths is one of culture. Institutions are often slow to adapt, but in the end, a military is made up of people who fight as they live. A free culture that encourages innovation will play that way on the battlefield, and grassroots experimental successes like Fessenden’s toy trucks are the sort of thing one would expect to see.
- Trucks to Troops
- Forecast International (Jan 4/12) – Trucks to Troops: Remote-controlled Lifesavers
- Austin Herald (Nov 10/11) – Toy-like gift helps soldiers stay safe
- ABC News (Aug 4/11) – Afghanistan War: Hobbyists’ Toy Truck Saves 6 Soldiers’ Lives