[Image: A SWORDS unit firing; photo via National Defense Magazine].
A U.S. ground combat robot has been accessioned by the Smithsonian Institution to form part of a future museum display, National Defense Magazine reports. The robot, one of the first to be sent into live combat—specifically, into Iraq in 2007, where the machines were seen “roaming the streets… carrying guns”—is part of the SWORDS system, or “special weapons observation remote reconnaissance direct action system.”
While this should come as no surprise, considering the already exhaustive collections of arms and armor found in museums around the world, it’s nonetheless interesting to watch as semi-autonomous combat machines become subject to the Q-Tip-wielding fragility of museum restoration techniques, which will no doubt seek to preserve these machines as if they were never meant to be altered or broken.
But it’s also a slightly haunting conceptual moment in military history, as the earliest examples of armed ground devices less than a decade old now stand shrouded in the halls of national memory, like returned soldiers from a war no one wants to think about, encased alongside medieval knights holding onto their own swords well into the afterlife.
[Image: Knights at the Metropolitan Museum of Art].
The news also makes it hard not to imagine a Museum of Military Robotics on the horizon somewhere, its displays filled with heavily armed sentinels standing there, polished and dormant, behind glass, sleeping artifacts that unstoppably emerged from cracks in the laws of war and the possibilities of sentient machinery.
Google Glass-wearing parents take their kids to the Tomb of the Unknown Robot, while algorithmically patterned bursts of artillery soar over the laser-leveled landscape, a former test range for ground drones.
Perhaps we’ll even see 4-star generals someday buried with their favorite combat machines, like Viking conquerors, not lying next to loyal falcons or warhorses but SWORDS units and Raven drones.