The iRobot 510 PackBot was the first robot to provide glimpses inside the reactor buildings of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake. Traveling at up to 5.8mph, it climbs stairs, rolls over rubble, and navigates narrow passages. It weighs 24 pounds without batteries and relays real-time video, audio, and other sensory information, including GPS, compass, inclinometer, and accelerometer data. (Source: iRobot)
I'm all for the idea of sending robots--not humans--to bear to brunt of war whenever and wherever possible. I have to say, though, in looking through this slide show (which was pretty amazing, BTW) I couldn't help but think I'm looking at bunch of toys for grown ups. We're talking lifesize Transformers and Iron Man and those crazy killing machines from James Cameron's movie Avatar. I don't know what that says about the psychological connections between the toys we give our children and propensity for going to war. I'm not for either. But I suppose the practicalities of geopolitics means that developments on the military robot front can translate into lives saved and that's a good thing.
Beth, those were some interesting observations. What this reminds me of is Robot Wars. I think the show origniated in the UK. It has since moved to the US and probably other countries. These robots look a lot like those robots, which we made by hobyists.
As for the kids, they seem to always pick up on war toys. I know people who would not let their kids have violent toys (no guns, tanks, etc.). Whenever they had the chance, they would make a gun out of a stick, or some such thing. It just seems to be how they are built.
Beth, that's an interesting point about design, and I'd expand it to say that designing robots for real apps has been highly influenced by both science fiction (novels and movies) and video games, both of which have also produced kids war toys. Especially video games. Soldiers have been trained for combat using video games. I then wonder what happens when people trained to do video game killing do actual killing...but that's another topic. Meanwhile, these robots do save human lives.
Rob, I also noticed that none of these are specifically weaponized. That's probably because for many of them the main function is search-and-rescue, reconnaissance/surveillance, or bomb disposal. However, descriptions of several of these robots mention "payloads" and user-customization options that imply the ability to attach weapons.
David, glad you liked the slideshow. But I'm afraid you're wrong about the iRobot identification--unless iRobot has misidentified them on its own website, which I doubt. The photos are identified with the correct model numbers and related spec sheet and application info. It takes a bit of digging to find these photos--they're in the press center.
Rob, "payload" very often means weapons or bombs of some kind in a military context. Customization options for some of these include hazmat, bomb disposal and other tactical options. That said, many of them can also be used for search-and-rescule operations. Stay tuned--I'm working on a search and rescue robot slideshow that will include firefighting and other robots, some like the ones Elizabeth just wrote about here:
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