Documenting the Coming Singularity

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Explosion of military robots coming to a war near you

Editor's Note: It's not hard to see why the military loves the idea of robots. Wars are lost by the public's unwillingness to sacrifice the lives of its sons and daughters to far off conflicts that have little obvious bearing on their own lives. So the Pentagon is always looking for ways to wage wars that don't shed blood in copious amounts. Robots don't bleed, and when they are blown up, no one cries (except maybe their creators, but that's a different story). So we can easily understand the motive. What we wonder, though, is how long before Skynet takes over? - August 13, 2009, by Dan De Luce

A prototype of the X-47B Navy Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) sits on display at Naval Air Station Pax River Webster Field Annex in St. Inigoes, Maryland, on August 10. The X-47B, made by Northrop Grumman Corporation, is to demonstrate the first-ever carrier-based autonomous launches and recoveries.

Robots in the sky and on the ground are transforming warfare, and the US military is rushing to recruit the new warriors that never sleep and never bleed.

The latest robotics were on display at an industry show this week at a naval airfield in Maryland, with a pilotless helicopter buzzing overhead and a "Wall-E" look-alike robot on the ground craning its neck to peer into a window.

The chopper, the MQ-8B Fire Scout, is no tentative experiment and later this year will be operating from a naval frigate, the USS McInerney, to help track drug traffickers in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Navy officers said.

The rugged little robot searching an enemy building is called a Pakbot, which can climb over rocks with tank treads, pick up an explosive with its mechanical arm and dismantle it while a soldier directs the machine from a safe distance.

There are already 2,500 of them on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a lighter version weighing six kilograms (14 pounds) has arrived that can be carried in a backpack, according to iRobot, the same company that sells a robot vaccum to civilians, the Roomba.

Monday's demonstration of robotic wonders was organized by defense contractors and the US Navy, which says it wants to lead the American military into a new age where tedious or high-risk jobs are handed over to robots.

"I think we're at the beginning of an unmanned revolution," Gary Kessler, who oversees unmanned aviation programs for the US Navy and Marines, told AFP.

"We're spending billions of dollars on unmanned systems."

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