An unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) is a vehicle that operates while in contact with the ground and without an onboard human presence. UGVs can be used for many applications where it may be inconvenient, dangerous, or impossible to have a human operator present. Generally, the vehicle will have a set of sensors to observe the environment, and will either autonomously make decisions about its behavior or pass the information to a human operator at a different location who will control the vehicle through teleoperation. The UGV is the land-based counterpart to unmanned aerial vehicles and remotely operated underwater vehicles. Unmanned robotics are being actively developed for both civilian and military use to perform a variety of dull, dirty, and dangerous
In their 1930s, the USSR developed Teletanks, a machine gun-armed tank remotely controlled by radio from another tank. These were used in the Winter War (1939-1940 ) against Finland and at the start of the Eastern Front after Germany invaded the USSR in 1941. During World War II, the British developed a radio control version of their Matilda II infantry tank in 1941. Known as "Black Prince", it would have been used for drawing the fire of concealed anti-tank guns, or for demolition missions. Due to the costs of converting the transmission system of the tank to Wilson type gearboxes, an order for 60 tanks was cancelled.
From 1942, the Germans used the Goliath tracked mine for remote demolition work. The Goliath was a small tracked vehicle carrying 60 kg of explosive charge directed through a control cable. Their inspiration was a miniature French tracked vehicle found after France was defeated in 1940. The combination of cost, low speed, reliance on a cable for control, and poor protection against weapons meant it was not considered a success.
The first major mobile robot development effort named Shakey was created during the 1960s as a research study for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for Artificial Intelligence (DARPA-AI) to test its obedience with commands, which is different from advanced robots that are autonomous or semi-autonomous. Shakey was a wheeled platform that had a TV camera, sensors, and a computer to help guide its navigational tasks of picking up wooden blocks and placing them in certain areas based on commands.