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Robots – To Serve Man

January 18, 2011

Some Save – Some Kill

Here are a few true combat robotics stories. They show that unlike their creator, robots can be designed in all kinds of sizes, for all kinds of applications, in all kinds of environments.

They range from nano to mega, to save friends or destroy enemies, on land, in the sky or undersea. Robots work alone or in groups, autonomously or under remote control. Fearlessly robots go where people dare not. But man must still take responsibility for what the robots do.

Working in Tandem to Save Lives
The first story was shown at the TARDEC Robotics Rodeo at Fort Benning, GA. where a “marsupial” robot team, which is when a larger autonomous (or in this case, teleoperated) system or robot carries a smaller robot (SUGV: Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle) to its destination, extending the robots’ range to keep warfighters at a safe distances.

When improvised explosive devices destroyed three of these SUGVs equipped with grippers, the military and the robot’s designers celebrated. The exploded 310 SUGV surveillance and bomb disposal robots meant that at least three warfighters did not suffer the effects of those blasts. Several hundred of these iRobot Corp.-designed SUGVs have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to reduce risk to Soldiers who encounter threats on missions and patrols. Credit: U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC)

This CAT 287C Multi-Terrain Loader demonstrates the removal of a vehicle suspected of concealing a bomb. Caterpillar showed a “marsupial” pairing of robots, sending an SUGV from a platform on its 287C loader to the roadside to inspect the potentially dangerous vehicle and then directing the construction vehicle to clear the threat from the path. Credit: TARDEC

The folks at iRobot teamed with Caterpillar to combine a smart light weight scout robot with a powerful remotely controlled multi-terrain loader. Read more here and watch these cuter than kangaroos machines in action below…

Stories about killer robots 

Some Robots Seek & Destroy

Switchblade – Miniature Loitering Weapon

I have to admit to uttering a dark chuckle when I first read the classification “Miniature Loitering Weapon” for the “Switchblade” UAV from AeroVironment.  AeroVironment is an interesting California based tech company that makes UAVs and Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations. UAVs & EVs are a couple of our favorite subjects here at Innovational Musings.

AeroVironment was founded in 1971 by Dr. Paul MacCready known as the “father of human-powered flight.” I’m not sure how pleased MacCready would have been with “Switchblade” or the company’s term “magic bullet”  but this lightweight UAV can be carried to the battlefield and transform from a spy in the sky to a guided mini bomb.

He Ain’t Heavy, it’s My UAV

Switchblade as the warfighter's “magic bullet”

AeroVironment describes the Switchblade as the warfighter’s “magic bullet”. It can rapidly provide a powerful, but expendable miniature flying Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) package on a Beyond Line-of-Sight (BLOS) target within minutes. This miniature, remotely-piloted or autonomous platform can either glide or propel itself via quiet electric propulsion, providing real-time GPS coordinates and video for information gathering, targeting, or feature/object recognition. The vehicle’s small size and quiet motor make it difficult to detect, recognize, and track even at very close range. The Switchblade is fully scalable and can be launched from a variety of air and ground platforms.

The Switchblade’s payload and launcher, weighing less than six pounds total, can be carried in a backpack by a single soldier. The mini UAV, which sends streaming video and GPS coordinates back to its operator, can be transformed from an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance UAV into a mini bomb striking a target beyond the line of sight. See full article in Defense Update…

Below is another case of a robot/UAV being carried about by a buddy in this great shot of the stealthy Phantom Ray being transported for full scale testing.

Bad Ass Phantom Ray Hitches Ride from Boeing Big Brother

NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified Boeing 747, carries Boeing's Phantom Ray during a test flight on Dec. 13 in St. Louis. Photo: NASA

Boeing has unveiled the new, fighter-sized 50 foot span experimental unmanned Phantom Ray – a test bed for advanced Unmanned Combat Aerial System (UCAS) technologies. Phantom Ray is designed to support potential missions that may include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; suppression of enemy air defenses; electronic attack; strike; and autonomous aerial refueling.

Phantom Ray General Characteristics:

Length: 36 ft (10.9 m)
Wingspan: 50 ft (15.2 m)
Gross Weight: 36,500 lbs (16,556 kg)
Operating Altitude: 40,000 ft (12,192 m)
Cruise Mach: 0.8 (614 mph-988 km/h)
Engine: F404-GE-102D

See full article at Defense Update…

You Can Call Me Ray

So we finish up these true tales of fighting men and machines. Warfighters and robots working together to win the wars. Machines serving man in the most extreme of enterprises. But we should be wary of those who unselfishly propose To Serve Man. They may have other motives on their menu.

Now, I have to admit to being fascinated by these wondrous fighting machines and the brilliant engineering  needed to bring them to life. I do have doubts though about the wisdom of having machines doing our fighting for us as we stand-off at a safe distance. If we are to fight wars there is an inherent danger in outsourcing the dirty work to our moral-less machine mercenaries.

My fears are not just the Terminator scenarios of the movies. Beyond what Asimov called the Frankenstein Complex, where machines turn on their creators. My concern is our loss of the horror of war. War and killing should not be clean and distant. It is not a video game. It needs to be up-close and dirty so we see, smell and hear the horror. We need to know that our lives are at stake and can be lost in battle. It keeps us human, connected to what we are risking.

I do believe that war and killing are still sometimes called for to protect ourselves and families. But war fighting should never become easy and we should not be comfortable hiding behind the mask of our machines. We must be responsible for our actions and remain in control of our destiny.

Perhaps Styx said it Best

Mr. Roboto

I’m not a robot without emotions, I’m not what you see,

I’ve come to help you with your problems so we can be free,

I’m not a hero, I’m not a savior, forget what you know,

I’m just a man who’s circumstances went beyond his control,

Beyond my control, We all need control,

I need control, we all need control,

I am the modern man, (Secret secret, I’ve got a secret)

Who hides behind a mask, (Secret secret, I’ve got a secret)

So no one else can see, (Secret secret, I’ve got a secret)

My true identity,

Domo Arigato. Mr, Roboto

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2011 7:59 pm

    In 1980 or 81 had Paul MacCready for a speaker. I was chairman of 27 and we gave Paul a plaque for innovator of the year or something. Meeting was almost a disaster as almost 50% did not make reservations and we were sold out. Kept having waiters put up tables. He brought the FILM? of the peddle plane, think it was from a PBS broadcast. Interesting speaker, had to design the plane for the money, had co-signed a loan and the person he signed for defaulted.

    Talked to one of my flight instructors (from the Air Force days). Told him about the pilotless planes being developed. He was excited as he was the first American shot down by a German jet during WW II. He was on a recon in a P-38 without guns. There was a reason for that.

    Remember RUR where the military is all automated and using robots? We are approaching that point. Would like to see more of the automated system be used to clear the roads and mine fields.

    Forest Ackerman, had a collection of Sci-Fi (coined the word) in his small home near Griffith Park. Made several trips there and bought some autographed books from him. He had a life size figure of Maria from Metropolis. Forest has since died but wonder what happened to his stuff.

  2. March 12, 2011 10:29 am

    Hey Bob,

    I think I was at the MacCready mtg. Being in SoCal in the 80’s was a great place for tech guys. We had Ray Bradbury as keynote at an early Robotics Int’l mtg.

    I’m not sure what happened to Ackerman’s stuff. I regret not having seen his shop and met him.

    In my research on World’s Fairs I found the below bit in Wikipedia.>

    “The First World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) was held in the Caravan Hall in New York from 2 July to 4 July 1939, in conjunction with the New York World’s Fair, which was themed as “The world of tomorrow”. The convention was later named “Nycon I” by Forrest J Ackerman (who attended the convention in a costume designed by his girlfriend: this is considered a forerunner to modern fan costuming[1]). The event had 200 participants.”

    There’s also great photo of a jalopy full of classic SF guys, including Bardbury, heading to the fair.

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