Russia’s Newest Weapon: A Remote Controlled Rock

by Jennifer Shea

Watch out, America. Russia’s got a remote-controlled rock, and it knows how to use it.

Russia’s Zhukovsky-Gagarin Air Force Academy has apparently been developing a top-secret robot that will soon be ready to see action. Camouflaged to look like a rock, the robot moves like a tank and packs an assortment of sensitive surveillance technology.

It took Russian cadets more than three years to perfect the robot rock, per Jalopnik. And they intend to use it “for positional warfare in conditions of sniper coverage.”

See a video of the snooper rock here:

Russia’s Remote-Controlled Rock Has Some Limitations

The robot comes with a motion sensor that activates several built-in cameras and microphones. And thanks to its tough exterior, it’s mostly protected from the elements.

But the robot only has a passive battery life of 24 hours. And it can gather, process and send out information for only 15 hours. So it can’t, for example, sit at a military base for years, transmitting data back to Mother Russia.

And the robot requires a human controller to reposition itself. That human has to be within 1.24 miles (2 kilometers) of the robot with the controller in hand in order to make it move.

For Ukraine, Rock Is No Laughing Matter

Still, Western military analysts say the remote-controlled rock is no laughing matter. It would be useful in trench warfare when the front lines have stalled. And along the Russia-Ukraine border, where tensions have been heating up lately, trenches are a part of the ongoing war that Russian-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.

“As the developers explained, one of the applications can be reconnaissance during a positional war or a ‘frozen’ military conflict,” Samuel Bendett, an analyst at the Center for Naval Analysis and adjunct senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, told Popular Science.

And as cute as the wobbly rock may appear, it is a less intrusive presence than a drone or a plane. So it might just pass unnoticed if the opposing side’s soldiers aren’t watching the ground for moving rocks.

“The [Russian Ministry of Defense] is now training for this kind of combat and is developing different types of robotic systems capable of functioning in an urban terrain,” Bendett added. “The downside is that it is potentially fragile and could be easily damaged, especially if it’s uncovered by the adversary (given how it does not have any defenses).”

So while the robot rock is unlikely to be very useful in spying on America, that probably wasn’t what its developers had in mind. And the rock may yet give Russia a tactical advantage in conflicts closer to home.