Aircraft carrier crews are likely to get rather pungent as they perform the hard tasks of assembling, loading and hauling the massive weaponry that gives the U.S. Navy its edge. To make their lives easier, the Navy’s exploring the idea of developing a “robotic semiautonomous swarm on a ship” that can actually smell its way to weapons prep, thanks to an artificial pheromone.

Conceptually, the project is somewhat similar to existing warehouse robots, which use optical navigation systems that recognize markings on floors and walls. Except this research concept is a bit smellier. The Navy wants its defense-industry partners to “identify [a] chemical capable of meeting environmental and health requirements” which can act as a pheromone. Next, the Navy needs a system that can encode the chemical with data, and a system for decoding it. Eventually, the plan is to “fully develop and test modules, for a leader and follower robots, capable of operating for duration of one complete week.”

The description of “leader” and “follower” robots comes down to the Navy’s requirement that the machines are at least semiautonomous, with a human controller in charge. These robots will be tasked with carrying 1,000-pound bombs inside tight spaces, after all. Per the Navy solicitation, the leader robot will be controlled by a human who guides it along and dispenses the chemical pheromone, with follower robots picking it up, analyzing it and following along like army ants. That should help take some of the load off the aviation ordnance crews known as Red Shirts.

Read more at Wired

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