Gentlemen, we can see that the most effective fighting machine is this, the main battle mecha. Large, imposing, heavily armed, ugly. The people don't like to see mecha. They don't like seeing these brutal war machines walking through their cities, through their countrysides. It's PR and spin. The populace wants pilots in the machines, despite the fact that this makes them less effective, more vulnerable. People do not trust the machine, and it is our job to make them realize that their technophobia is misplaced, and that rather than being afraid of the machine, they should love the machine. We have to sell them that reality.
Salazar Vector, Autonomous Robotics CEO
Autonomous Robotics was a small technology company that was involved in manufacturing autons and service droids, but it's CEO was interested in expanding the portfolio of the company into producing military, paramilitary, and industrial application robots. This came at a disastrous time, as Vector's initiative came just days before the 3rd Tycho Convention and it's rulings on autonomous military hardware.
The 3rd Tycho Convention
After the Global Oxygen Crisis, the Tycho Conventions on Luna continued on as an international, and interplanetary forum for arcanotech, hypertech, and applications of said technology, it's moral and ethical implications, and the basic rules of warfare. The 3rd Tycho Convention centered heavily on military robotics. The central thrust was a moratorium on creating autonomous robots for the purpose of military applications. It was posited that this would lead to the Skynet Dilemma in which nations would become reliant on machines for war, that could turn against all of humanity. It was generally accepted that military robots had to have remote control operation, lack autonomy, or be relegated to support and logistic roles.
The Sentinel series is a remarkable achievement in robotics. These robots are large, and they are impressive. Each stands an average of 6 meters tall and weigh 2.4 tons. Their strength, durability, and endurance is equally impressive. They can lift 80% of their own weight, run at a top speed of 45 kilometers per hour, and on a full charge, operate at 70% output, equivalent to heavy operations, for 4 days. These are all very impressive numbers, from a civilian standpoint. From a military standpoint, they are terrible. Compared to mecha, they are small, slow, virtually unprotected, and easily destroyed.
It's a good thing these aren't being made for the military.
The Sentinel series Heavy Auton was comparatively simple to develop. The majority of the chassis, power components, sensors, and other basic components are scaled up auton equipment. The technological hurdles were low, as even at the scale of the typical Sentinel, the machines are small compared to the lightest mecha and comparable to heavy battle armor suits. The area of the greatest amount of research and development were the face units, hand manipulators, and the Spark series Cortex. The Spark Cortex was a major upgrade from the previously most sophisticated cortex, the Laser Cortex. The Spark series had much finer motor control, systems for facial manipulation, voice functions, and a synthetic intelligence matrix that allowed the machines to present the appearance of a personality without requiring artificial intelligence.
Production of the Sentinel series was to be spread out across three sub-assembly plants, and a central assembly facility. The power cores and electrical systems were to be manufactured in Nigeria, the chassis was going to be assembled in the Great Lakes Republic, and the cortices were to be produced in Germany with final assembly being handled in England. A good number of Sentinels would be created, but nowhere near the numbers that were hoped for.
Orion Sentinel was created as a one off proof of concept machine that was to serve as the ambassador of the sentinel series to the populace and corporate interests. As such, Orion was 8 meters tall, a solid 4 tons, and had a custom made Spark Matrix cortex. Despite being larger, and more powerful than the regular run model, Orion had the manual dexterity to paint, could and regularly did pick up children, and demonstrated the gregarious nature of the Spark persona programming. Orion was also designed to be a strong orator, and had the ability to speak eloquently and demonstrated a charisma that was surprising for a machine.
One of the first main line Sentinels was the search and rescue model. The Jazz model was, as it name implies, designed for working in disaster and relief operations, locating missing and injured people, and was equipped to handle earthquake response, ship crashes, and even something on the scale of an arcology collapse. The model was programmed with an upbeat persona, and a highly positive attitude to assist with helping the injured while responding to a disaster situation.
Using a similar chassis to Orion, the Ironhide Sentinel was designed for manual labor, replacing the smaller and less efficient industrial autons in mining and other dangerous applications, and supplementing and eventually replacing construction mecha and hardsuits. The Ironhide model demonstrated a 'gruff' and masculine persona that was seen as fitting for what was seen as a throwback to centuries old blue collar labor.
Environmentalism is a major issue/theme in the Cosmic Era and there are hundreds of BioCreches, reclamation efforts, wildlife and forest preserves around the world. These locations require maintenance and have their own projects that need to be addressed. The Hound Sentinel is designed to operate off the grid, with minimal support and maintenance, and for prolonged durations. A team of Hound Sentinels could do the forestry, earthworks, and groundskeeping of dozens, even hundreds of human laborers and standard autons.
Non-militarized police and security is an under served market, with more money being spent on wojeks and police autons, and high end non-lethal weaponry, and the basic desire of private security to lean towards paramilitary than basic patrol. The Prowl Sentinel is a walking cop that spends time not cruising in an armored vehicle, not aloof observing from an aerostat platform. The Prowl model is very lightly armed, and instead relies on it's large size, durable chassis, and communications system to project an aura of police presence without being a hostile or occupying force.
The Ratchet Medical Sentinel is a walking medical theatre, capable of providing first aid and triage in cases of natural disaster, epidemics, and other medical emergencies. As such, it was seen as a natural pairing to put a Ratchet sentinel with a pair of Jazz first responders, and an Ironhide laborer. These teams would be able to quickly and efficiently rescue people from disaster situations. The Ratchet Sentinel is programmed with a gruff but affable persona, akin to the Rockwellian notion of the country doctor. A Ratchet Sentinel will be deployed with a number of 'nurse' and 'surgeon' autons, which are controlled remotely by the Sentinel itself.
Unlike the previous Sentinels, the Construction series is composed of a basic chassis with a large number of quick connect pieces that emulate the function of many specialized construction mecha. Current construction is carried out by said construction mecha, industrial hardsuits, and menial autons, most of which are expensive and require extensive supervision. The Constructors sit between the smaller hardsuits, larger mecha, and have the manual dexterity and motor control of humans working with their hands. Simulations demonstrate that an equal team of Constructors could build a structure slightly quicker than the current methods, but would be able to do so at a significant decrease in cost, and less oversight. In theory, a Constructor team could build most of a new colony by itself, provided it had a source of raw materials to work with.
An unglamourous Sentinel, the Logistic model is designed to do the same work as loader hardsuits and lifter mecha, loading and unloading shipping, operating mass drivers, and moving goods manually if need be. The Logistic series has a modification to their Spark Cortices that allows them to interface with and control smaller machines and vehicles associated with logistics, such as cargo hauling trucks, light helocraft, remote operated cranes, and other equipment.
Animal hybrids and animal styled robots are in demand in the Federation Afro-Zone, and the South African United Republics. The Totem Sentinel is a restyling of existing Sentinel models, retaining their basic chassis and other subcomponents but having animal and animalistic styling to their carapaces. These Totem Sentinels commonly have lion, rhino, wildebeast, and a variety of other models. The first and only Totem series made were manufactured for the African market, but there were plans in conception phase for Oriental, European, and Amero designs for those markets. None of these ever made it past the planning phase.
The Sentinels were met with a lackluster lukewarm reception. While the machines accomplished everything they were designed to do, they failed to ignite excitement in the common populace and didn't change the public opinion on the use of large scale robotics. The anti-robot sentiments around the 3rd Tycho Convention made any robot series launch difficult, and the people were distrusting and wary of the friendly outgoing machines.
More machines? Why is that always the answer? That's what those guys in their big tower factories don't get. We don't like the little robots, we sure don't like the big robots. I mean we've seen what happens when a little auton goes off the code, and they have to call the cleaners in with their anti-robot and anti-armor guns to take it down. I don't want to see what happens when something like that Orion thing gets a hacker bug and decides to start busting things up and killing people, you know what I mean?
Sure they act nice now, but doesn't everyone act nice at first?
All I see is another machine that's going to take our human jobs, smiling and waving while I'm sent home to sit on my residency (welfare payments). They can stuff that in their a** (explicit)
A small number of Sentinels were approved and the machine was moved into limited production. While the public had little interest in the social roles and Industrial unions opposed the industrial machines, the private security and police sectors had interest in the machines. The Prowl, Orion, and a few others had applications they were interested in. With their large size and complex cortices, the machines were competent in handling security work, but by lacking integrated weapons and only having very limited armor, they were not classified as military or paramilitary hardware.
The limitations of the machine were considered minimal, as the vast majority of security work involved nothing more than dispersing crowds, routing riots, and withstanding light firearms and improvised weaponry. The sentinels proved more than capable of handling it, and were easily equipped with non-lethal weaponry for carrying out their tasks. The sentinels were commonly equipped with blinding spotlights, nausea inducing light and acoustic devices, acoustic crown dispersal devices, and could carry pressurized gas dispensers (tear gas) and pressurized fluid systems (water cannon). While a dedicated team of shadowrunners and black ops could disable or destroy a sentinel, the machines could prevail by sheer mass, certainly slowed such attacks, and even if they did not stop a team, the team would expend resources and abilities dealing with the machines while counter-ops and other security elements had time to move into place.
The planned follow up to the Sentinel Series was the Centurion Series. Unlike the Sentinel, the Centurion was designed very much for combat and military applications. The chassis was reinforced, and the carapace was made of military grade armor. Centurions would have been able to mount light and medium scale mecha weaponry, and themselves could have rendered both power armor and mecha irrelevant on the battlefield.
Planned Centurions included an Air Superiority model, equipped with an A-Pod unit for agile flight and plasma jets for higher speeds, artillery and 'destroyer' models mounting heavy weapons to take out other large robots, mecha, and fortifications, communications and hacking models for co-opting enemy automated systems, and a number of main battle models for various environments and roles.
The Centurion was never made in serious production, given the relative failure of the Sentinel launch. It was hoped that the project could be floated until public opinion changed on robotic warfare. The public opinion did eventually change, but by the time that the Centurion would have been accepted, the Skeletron beat them to the punch. The machines were much less capable than the Centurion, but they were drastically cheaper, quicker and easier to manufacture, and were not as vulnerable to mecha scale weapons and anti-mecha tactics and equipment.
Sentinels, Centurions and Seibertronians
The Seibertronians are a relatively minor faction in the Cosmic Era, but they have enough numbers and competency to do impressive and surprising things, such as secretly technoformatting themselves a new homeworld somewhere else in the Solar System. One of the things that these machine intelligences excel at is computer and CogNet espionage. They have long since raided and confiscated copies of all the technology behind the cancelled Centurions and the limited production of Sentinels. As the machines were built to be autonomous from the beginning, with care shown to their design, the Seibertronians find these machines make exceptional shells for their cortices to occupy.
Through these complex bodies, they express their own art, industry, and other tasks that most people relegate to the work of humans, not thinking of machines building their own bodies, their own factories, or their own world. Their Primus AISC is in the process of working out the methods required to turn each Sentinel or Centurion built into a living Seibertronian, giving birth to a true new race in the Solar system, not made from the hands of humanity.