Yeah, this’ll scare al Qaida

It doesn’t take much for the Department of Defense to get all giddy.

One day they successfully manage to pry former Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein from his rat-infested spider hole (or was that spider-infested rat hole?), and the next they’re cheerfully daydreaming about equipping the armed forces with battery-powered, self-balancing scooters to take on our nation’s enemies.

According to a recent Associated Press report, one of the Pentagon’s latest brainstorms does, in fact, involve finding ways to adapt the popular civilian Segway Scooter to military use.

If you’ve never seen one, the Segway Scooter looks like half of a lawnmower with big ol’ balloon tires and no blades. It was developed as a nonpolluting, easy-to-operate New Age commuter vehicle – sort of a go-anywhere, do-anything puddle jumper for people who don’t understand all the gears on a mountain bike and can’t quite figure out how to parallel park an 18,000-pound sport utility vehicle in downtown Manhattan. And, since the scooter’s self-balancing, you can probably have that extra martini after work and still make it home without rolling over.

So, logically, this makes the scooter an excellent choice as a military assault vehicle, right?

This rather reminds me of a time during the Vietnam War when the Hells Angels offered to do battle with the wily Viet Cong if the Department of Defense would provide transportation and equip their Harley-Davidsons with .30-caliber machine guns and rocket launchers and flame throwers and other cool stuff…

But that was then and this is now and, needless to say, today’s Pentagon has a few of its own ideas about cool stuff – like self-balancing scooters and, er, robots.

Hey, I bet the Hells Angels never thought of the robots….According to Associated Press, the Pentagon’s bid for scooter superiority on the 21st-century battlefield will probably involve robot-controlled units designed to perform a variety of tasks. Already, AP reports, researchers have developed Segway robots that can “open doors, avoid obstacles and chase soccer balls.

“Well, that’s a relief. If there’s one problem that has plagued the military since the beginning of modern warfare, it’s keeping track of soccer balls.

Want to effectively demoralize a military unit? Just hide its soccer ball.

Other uses for the robotic combat scooters, researchers have suggested, could include battlefield search missions, transportation of the injured and “following humans around while hauling their gear.”

The latter task could, of course, be performed by llamas, mules or remote-controlled Daewoo Leganzas, but none of the latter are particularly known for their ability to chase soccer balls under combat conditions.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of using the two-wheeled scooters in combat, though, will be the psychological impact on the enemy.

Just think of how a cadre of hardcore al Qaida guerrillas will react when they see a phalanx of self-balancing, robot-controlled two-wheel scooters spinning across the desert sands at them.

Hell, once they laugh themselves into insensibility, it’ll be a cinch for the Army to round ’em up and march ’em off without a shot being fired…

Originally published January 11, 2004