Emerging Tech

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Giving military robots the brains to think for themselves

It seems every week I blog about emerging technology involving government and military robots, with each synthetic creature slightly more impressive than the last. At this rate, I’ll be announcing the birth of Cylons by the end of the year.

We began with the AlphaDog,  which may one day help store the gear of Marines on the go. It’s good at charging through brush and following soldiers as they march, and it can even stand up if someone knocks it down.

Then we had the SHARC swimming robot, which can stay out on its own, monitoring the world’s oceans for years at a time without the need to refuel or re-equip itself.

Now, we have an existing government robot, the 510 PackBot, which is manufactured for bomb disposal and scouting duties by the iRobot company, learning to think for itself. OK, so the PackBot, which has been used frequently in Afghanistan, isn’t exactly a genius yet, but it can perform tasks on its own, which allows human operators to keep their heads down a safe distance away.

Previously, if a PackBot on bomb disposal duty lost contact with its operator, it would stop. If contact could not be reestablished, the human operator would have to track down the missing robot, exposing him to potential danger. But now, the PackBots will retrace their steps if contact is lost, moving all the way back to their point of origin, or as far as needed to reestablish a connection.

Other intelligence features include the ability to right itself if it flips over, hold a true course despite broken terrain and display its whereabouts using GPS mapping software. The new features are part of an add-on package that comes on a 640G Amrel rugged solid state drive that is mounted under the robot.

This may seem like a small step, but robots need to learn to walk on their own before they can run. Eventually, and probably not too far in the future, military robots could be deployed to dispose of bombs or guard patrols on their own. It just takes programming to help them interpret and deal with various stimuli.

Then we arm them to the teeth. After all, what could go wrong?

Posted by John Breeden II on Oct 01, 2012 at 9:39 AM


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