For Sale on eBay: Military Vehicles to Start a Robot Army

By Matt Novak on at

Ever had a burning desire to start your own robot army? Well, eBay might be you best bet, provided you have a few thousand pounds to spare. Earlier this week someone was selling an experimental unmanned military vehicle on eBay. (Death ray not included.)

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the US military had a renewed push to develop unmanned vehicles. Most Americans, of course, are familiar with the unmanned aerial vehicles (usually called drones) that are so commonplace in the military today. But we often forget about the experiments with ground vehicles which were being developed to act as surveillance, supply, and even combat support on the battlefield.

This DEMO III unit was an experimental unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), which was part of that early 2000s effort. The military's goal with the DEMO III program was to develop small vehicles able to, "drive autonomously at speeds of up to 40 mph on roads, 20 mph off road by day, and 10 mph off road at night or in foul weather conditions."

Like many UGVs of the period, it was a stepping stone to the unmanned vehicles of the future.But it's unclear precisely what this little guy might be capable of, given the fact that the seller hasn't even had a chance to play with the thing since acquiring it from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

"I bought it because it was unique and one of a kind. I'm not sure what kind of software it has or needs, because I haven't had the time to experiment with it yet," the seller told me over email.

The eBay listing (which has since vanished from the site) explained: "This will not be sold or shipped to anyone who cannot prove to me that: (1) it will not be sent overseas and (2) it will not be used directly or indirectly for anything that will cause the FBI to show up at my door."

I asked the seller if he had to sign anything that said he wouldn't sell it to anyone who might send it overseas. Surprisingly, he didn't.

"I didn't have to sign anything like this," he said through email. "I'm taking it upon myself to take this precaution, because it seems to me that I should have had to sign something."

As an experienced purchaser of government surplus, he's accustomed to signing these kinds of documents. Including the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) statements, which even apply to exercise equipment.

"I mean really, if I have to sign ITAR compliance statements to pick up a used stair master from NASA Goddard, then this should have been a no-brainer, but the GSA is not a very competent organisation if you know what I mean," he said.

But this DEMO III unit isn't going to go full Skynet anytime soon. It's not weaponised and it doesn't come with the Lidar that might allow for autonomous driving capabilities. Even if nobody buys the vehicle, the seller just wants to learn how to play with the thing.

"If nothing else, I'm hoping to make contact with someone who can help me to operate it."


This article originally appeared on Paleofuture, a Gizmodo blog looking into the future that never was