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High Tech Military: Rosie the Robot Joins the Army

Bill Smart is an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. With his PhD student Doug Few, he is working on the next generation of military robotics. Apparently, the US military has set the year 2020 as the goal of having 30% of the Army made up of robotic forces.

Neither researchers nor the military envision combat-ready squads of “clones and drones” like Star Wars or Isaac Asimov. Rather, Professor Smart explains, they are talking about “autonomous trucks”, bomb detectors and other support systems that are more precisely referred to as “autonomous systems instead of robots.”

Rosie the Robot Maid Several different technologies converge in the design and development of robotic military systems. Night vision “eyes”, “ears” from ultra-sensitive microphones and other sensors that pick up sound, heat signatures and even odors are transmitted to an operator at a remote location. With a computer, a screen or two, and a joystick, the soldier at the controls has a high-tech scout, bomb squad, cargo transporter, and intelligence collector all rolled into one.

When you think of “the future of robots,” says Ph.D. candidate Few, it’s always about “the Jetsons. George Jetson never sat at a computer and commissioned Rosie to clean the house. Somehow, they had this one. local information exchange. So what we’ve been working on is how we can use the local environment instead of a computer as a means of tasks for the robot. “

The iRobot Corporation’s Packbot is a far cry from Rosie the Robot Maid in intelligence and onboard prowess, but it is already serving functions in both Afghanistan and Iraq, delivering material and transporting equipment over dangerous terrain. As technology continues to advance, more robots are being deployed earlier in situations deemed, at least initially, too dangerous for humans. “When I stood there and looked [a battle-damaged Packbot], I realized that if that robot hadn’t been there, it would have been a boy, “says Few. Civil applications Police departments are quick to put into service whatever military technology they can get their hands on. In fact, the” The militarization “of US law enforcement, which has been gaining steam for at least several decades, has not been a resounding success in the eyes of all.

In the summer of 2007, Radley Balko, senior editor of Reason magazine, testified before the House Crimes Subcommittee. “Since the late 1980s,” he told the assembly, “thanks to laws passed by the United States Congress, millions of pieces of surplus military equipment have been turned over to local police departments across the country. Equipment. Military-grade semi-automatic weapons, armored personnel carriers, tanks, helicopters, airplanes, and all kinds of equipment designed for use on the battlefield are now being used on American streets, against American citizens. “

Bomb squad robots, with technology proven in the field at the world’s many military access points, have already made their way into many large urban police forces. As technology advances, Packbots and other special-purpose military robots will also join the local ranks of American law enforcement. “Academic criminologists,” Balko added, “attribute these transfers to the dramatic increase in paramilitary SWAT teams over the past quarter century.”

Private use proliferates One can view the rise of SWAT raids as a good or bad thing, depending on your views on law enforcement, subsidiarity, civil rights, and other hot political issues. Much less controversial, however, is the application of army-proven technologies, including robotics, for private purposes, such as security and self-defense.

ActivMedia Robotics of Peterborough, NH, manufactures various “security robots.” PatrolBot and similar mobile detection and surveillance systems function as backup copies of other fixed systems, while providing additional and complementary data. In many cases, the PatrolBot can implement sensors that are used infrequently or that are too expensive to install in permanent locations around a facility.

Facility managers in a Hewlett-Packard server facility need a 3D heat map of the building space, for example. Installing temperature sensors throughout the building could interfere with people’s mobility, so the PatrolBot carries a pole loaded with sensors to map the temperature in the facility at specific intervals. An additional advantage of robots, in this type of environment, is that they operate autonomously, make modernization of facilities unnecessary and can handle various emergencies without endangering people.

On Roanoke patrol, VA-based Cybermotion manufactures the Cyberguard line, originally introduced in the mid-1990s. Units can be equipped with various sensors: environmental, infrared, thermal, and so on. – and a variety of cameras that transmit video in real time via radio or Wi-Fi to a central command location.

Operators can control the pan, tilt, and zoom functions of the camera remotely and, for archival purposes, continuous or time-lapse video can be recorded to a hard drive on board the robotic vehicle, as well as the control station. Independently saved copies will ensure that damage caused to the Cyberguard, whether intentional or accidental, will not destroy any evidence collected up to that point.

The real-time color video security robots and other capabilities of the Jetson era are not “the wave of the future,” but they are here and available now. Various types of these robots, while still innovative new tools for large area security and other specialized military and police operations, are not considered a “fix it all” item or a “magic bullet” by any means.

Ready for prime time? ActivMedia’s marketing materials position its growing family of “bots” as components of a “robust security solution,” enabling businesses, and increasingly homeowners, to improve the odds of dealing with hit any “unexpected danger”. With the price of a standard PatrolBot dropping from $ 40,000 to just over half that of 2002, more and more small businesses and large properties may consider budgeting for such devices.

Adding mobile video surveillance won’t guarantee an improvement in all security systems, but in the right places, these robots can make a difference. A serious cost-benefit analysis needs to be done before writing a check for one of these units, and there are ongoing operating costs, certainly, of various parts that will wear out (wheels, gears, levers, etc.), batteries that need be loaded, control equipment that will need redundancy, etc.

The Next Frontier For savvy entrepreneurs, especially those with large physical plants and wide perimeters, mobile surveillance cameras with a few brains on board can be a smart investment. Others who are less intelligent, but are cutting edge technophiles, may convince themselves of a PackBot or Cyberguard purchase just because they are early adopters, or want to see if they can control the robot with an iPhone or some other device. .

Now the military and its “preferred vendors” are working hard to arm the robots for battle. We’re not likely to see much of this new technology trickling into products at the enterprise and consumer level, at least not anytime soon. However, it projects the trends in a few decades and it’s not hard to imagine Rosie trading her maid apron for a badge and gun. Rosie, the robot police? Watch out, George!

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