While we've discussed military and humanoid robots that walk and climb stairs, commenters on our robot stories have speculated what might happen when military humanoid robots start using weapons.
That future may be closer than we think. A humanoid robot that robotics pioneer Boston Dynamics has been developing for DARPA now has arms. This Pet-Proto, based on the company's previous Petman robot, is the one we wrote about when it learned to climb stairs. In a recent DARPA video (watch it below), you can see the Pet-Proto maneuver around and climb over various obstacles similar to what robots will face in the agency's latest Robotics Challenge.
A humanoid, stair-climbing, autonomous, decision-making robot that Boston Dynamics has been developing for DARPA now has arms. But is this a good thing? (Source: DARPA)
Although the Pet-Proto robot shown in the video is still attached by wires, a rendering of what it will look like in its more advanced incarnation as DARPA's Atlas robot shows an independent, wire-free, more humanoid form.
Text accompanying the video states, "To maneuver over and around the obstacles, the robot exercises capabilities including autonomous decision-making, dismounted mobility and dexterity." A version of this robot shown in the rendering will be provided to DARPA Robotics Challenge teams from Tracks B and C who successfully qualify. Registration for those tracks began in late October.
Over time, it will be increasingly populated with models of robots, perception sensors, and field environments, and function as a cloud-based, real-time, operator-interactive virtual test bed that uses physics-based models of inertia, actuation, contact, and environment dynamics.
A previous OSRF project, Gazebo, is a 3D multi-robot simulator with dynamics that can accommodate a population of multiple robots, sensors, and objects in a 3D environment.
The Robotics Challenge will test robots' abilities in accomplishing several tasks that simulate a post-disaster environment, with multiple obstacles and dangers to overcome. It's designed to help spur the development of more autonomous robots.
All the descriptions I've seen of the Robotics Challenge, and the robots DARPA is encouraging engineers to develop, emphasize rescue robots, doing things like driving a truck, putting out fires, or carrying wounded people away from fallen buildings. I keep wondering, though, what's to prevent the agency from teaching these autonomous robots, which make their own decisions, to use guns? And would that in any way be a good thing?
DARPA's creepy Proto-Pet project is just the beginning. On the 24th of October, the agency launched the DARPA Robotics Challenge. The goal of the competition is to pit roboticists from the US and the world against each other in order to develop hardware and software for bipedal robots that can handle typical human environments.
I look forward to seeing what come of this challenge. I think we will see an advancement is search & rescue type bots. The work could use them. Think Fukushima level disasters.
Given a few more years of development and we will be putting fully autonomous capability into heavily armed machines that have no notion of ethics, and which (who?) will be the perfect sociopaths, able to kill without a moment's thought or care. We are halfway there with the drones overflying Iraq and Afghanastan today. In a few years, those drones will be capable of picking and executing their own targets (if they can't already), and you won't need the radio control pilot anymore. Then the fun really begins.
Isaac Asimov invented his three laws of robotics not only because it made for good stories, but also because he understood that humans will use any new technology to whatever degree it is capable of being used as a weapon. Autonomous robots are no different. I doubt it will ever be possible to build empathy or anything like the "3 laws" into a robot, as someone will always find a way to crack the code. But it IS possible to pass regulations and international treaties to limit what degree of autonomy we will build into these machines, and to what degree they will be designed to be able to use human weapons. Since the US has been the most aggressive by far in the use of unmanned weapon development and deployment, I think it is up to us to put some brakes on this train while we still can.
Or we can just stay on the path we are on, and ride the train right off the edge of the cliff.
Very cool and with todays tehnology more than possible to acheive.
If a group of people with similar interest but different strenghts pull together a few DIY'ers could make one, or even a single person with some Mechanical and programming know how could make one.
"AIXML" "PHP"(or server side language you choose) "MySql"(or SQL) would be a good place to start for the brains, the actuall processing can be done using a micr-controller like the "Arduino" or any spinn off of it.
The machanics would be up to you, and any additional features like adding wireless control or voice recognition would be reliant on the software and electronic compnents, for Arduino "Sheilds" can be purchased.
Just a Note:
The Arduino-Mega 2560 has 52 I/O's, and substancial memory so having multiple servos and sensors to control the machine (Robot). From what I've seen small computer systems not much larger (if at all) than the Arduino-Mega with about the processing speed of an old 328 with 500gb RAM for about $100.
The amount of coordination between mechanical, electrical and software systems in this robot is amazing. I did not realize how advanced biped robots are becoming and how well-developed their ability is to navigate around such difficult obstacles.
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