The Putin Youth Forum in the city of Yaroslavl, Russia was meant to garner headlines this week by showing off the most advanced robotics Russia had to offer, and for a minute there, it really seemed like what Russia had to offer was something incredible. As the humanoid-shaped robot named “Boris” took to the stage, demonstrating the capability to walk, interact, and even dance unassisted, it seemed like Russia might really have something to brag about…
На молодежном форуме в Ярославле чувака нарядили в «робота Бориса». Танцевать его уже научили.
Вот это прорыв. Вот это я понимаю.. pic.twitter.com/mIo07Wvmjp
— Советский! (@Soviet_flag) December 12, 2018
…That is, until it was revealed that their advanced robot was nothing more than a guy in a costume that literally anyone with a spare $3,700 lying around could buy. Even some of the reporters were apparently skeptical as Boris the robot answered questions and seemed to exhibit a level of sophistication not seen in any of the advanced robots being fielded by power houses of the industry like Boston Dynamics. Of course, maybe some of that skepticism came from being able to see the guy’s neck through the costume when he moved in certain ways.
It wasn’t long before “Boris” was outed on social media for being a costume called “Alyosha the Robot” that’s sold by a company named Show Robots. Not quite the Kremlin’s crown jewel that the show’s organizers had hoped.
Вот вам тот самый «современный робот» — эксклюзивное фото подготовки к молодежному форуму Путина в Ярославле.
Фото: «МБХ медиа» pic.twitter.com/M9BorrYTNS
— МБХ Медиа (@MBKhMedia) December 12, 2018
Currently, it remains unclear as to whether Russian state media was aware of the hoax being perpetrated, or even if the show’s organizers were aware — but Russia has a long and illustrious history of faking technological breakthroughs for the sake of garnering international attention. Thanks to a stagnating economy, foreign investors into new technological endeavors are all but required if Russia hopes to make notable advances in realms like defense, with programs like their fifth-generation Su-57 and advanced T-14 Armata arguably functional… but so stymied by budget limitations that orders have been cut off for each after limited initial runs.
Here are just a few other technologies Russia has claimed to unveil this year, only to have them fizzle out soon thereafter:
Uran-9 Unmanned Combat Ground Vehicle
When reports emerged that Russia’s Uran-9 infantry support bot had reached Syria, the international media had a field day with headlines about Terminator robots taking over the battlefield. It wasn’t until months later that it was revealed that the Uran-9’s deployment was as troubled as it was short-lived. According to statements made by A.P. Anisimov, a Senior Research Officer from the 3rd Central Research Institute of the Russian Defence Ministry at a Russian security conference called “Actual Problems of Protection and Security,” the robot was just about useless in a fight. Operators lost connectivity when it strayed just 300 meters or so from them or when line of sight was compromised by terrain — and according to reports, they lost total control of the robot for at least one minute no fewer than 17 times during testing. Two more instances saw the robot simply shut down for more than 90 minutes.
It couldn’t fire accurately, couldn’t traverse the terrain it encountered, and was ultimately deemed more liability than asset in real field conditions. Nonetheless, the Kremlin opted to tout the Uran-9 in their most recent military parades as an immense success for the nation.
Ratnik-3 Stealth Camouflage System
Over the summer, Russia announced that their contractor Rostec had developed an active camouflage system that would electronically mimic a war fighter’s surroundings to help them blend in to any environment with ease. According to their claims at the time, the system would function on individual soldiers as well as large equipment, and a demonstration of their breakthrough was coming at any moment.
The demonstration, like the technology, never manifested — but they did earn some great “Predator” references in headlines all over the world.
Nuclear-Powered Cruise Missiles
Early this year, Russian president Vladimir Putin gave a speech that included references to a number of new weapons systems being developed by his nation’s military. Among them was a new nuclear-powered cruise missile he touted as “invincible” because of its near limitless range, thanks to a nuclear power source that could keep it flying for as long as it needed to in order to circumvent missile defense systems.
By the summer, however, it was revealed that the missile had failed to work in every test, with one even going missing in the Barents Sea. Russia deployed three ships to attempt to recover their lost missile and it’s unclear if they were ever able to find it.