Robots

Cover art from the new CNAS study, "20YY: Preparing for War in the Robotic Age."

After our story yesterday on Robert Work and Shawn Brimley‘s disconcerting vision of future robotic war, we got a thoughtful response from Brimley that, with his permission, we’ve published below. The Editors. Bob and I wrote the paper because we feel strongly that there are some powerful trends affecting the relationship between technology and military… Keep reading →

Northrop Grumman's MADDS armed robot (based on an earlier unarmed 'bot called CaMEL) captured in the act of firing.

More robots, fewer people. That’s where the US military is headed in the future. But what kind of robots? Army Gen. Robert Cone, four-star commander of the powerful Training and Doctrine Command (aka TRADOC), said that the service is studying how robots could help replace 25 percent of the soldiers in each of its 4,000-strong combat brigades. That’s because the… Keep reading →

Northrop Grumman's MADDS armed robot (based on an earlier unarmed 'bot called CaMEL) captured in the act of firing.

Here’s the latest exciting — and unnerving — unmanned system to catch our eye: a 1.5-ton robot that shoots the ever-living crap out of things. Oh, and the manufacturer, Northrop Grumman, most famous for building the B-2 stealth bomber, decided to call it MADSS, as in angry or insane. Perhaps they could’ve been a little… Keep reading →

NATIONAL PRESS CLUB: Since 9/11, robots have become commonplace tools for the military, police bomb squads, and hazardous materials teams. But as budgets tighten, not even the Pentagon can afford to buy many types of robots, each for a different mission.

So Northrop Grumman’s subsidiary, Remotec, is rolling out a new robot called Titus specifically designed to be smaller, cheaper, and more versatile than the current crop. Its basic configuration weighs about 135 pounds, costs about $125,000, and is “modular” so users can easily snap off and snap on parts to tailor the robot to a particular mission. Users can swap the manipulator arm, the tires and tracks (it has both), and cameras; Titus even has “Picatinny rails” like those on standard-issue U.S. military rifles so users can snap on different accessories. Keep reading →

WASHINGTON: The US military wants robots that can work alongside soldiers without needing constant remote-control attention to keep them from knocking into things. That isn’t as easy as it sounds. While computers can out-process a human mind now by crunching huge numbers of numbers, when it comes to physical objects, even state-of-the-art robots make human toddlers look coordinated.

That clumsiness is something Georgia Tech professor Mike Stilman is working to cure. With a three-year, $900,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research, which supports research into everything from robotics to railguns, Stilman is trying to develop a robot that can not only avoid obstacles but can use them as improvised tools. He and his team call the project “MacGyver.” Keep reading →

Why is the military’s elite research arm so interested in robots with legs? It isn’t speed.

Boston Dynamics’ Cheetah robot, funded by DARPA, made headlines after it broke its own speed record yesterday and became the first robot to run on legs faster than the fastest human, track star Usain Bolt. Cheetah got up to 28.3 miles per hour . Sure, that was on a treadmill in a lab, with an external brace to keep Cheetah from falling over; but other, much slower Boston Dynamics robots like the “Big Dog” have already solved the balance problem and can walk on their own four feet over rough ground, even ice. So the obvious next step is to combine the two technologies to build a well-balanced, fast-running robot. But why? Keep reading →


LAS VEGAS: “We’ve been spoiled,” the colonel said. Since 9/11, the military has had “giant pots of money” to throw at urgent problems without going through the full acquisition process. It’s been a bonanza for contractors with innovative technology to offer. But as the war winds down, Lt. Col. Stuart Hatfield of the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) warned, the war funding goes away — and the bureaucracy comes back.

The military will still invest in the now-archtypical unmanned missions like flying drones for surveillance and ground robots to clear bombs. It will also explore new areas like unmanned trucks for supply convoys and increase its focus on lighter, more deployable systems. But it will do so with fewer dollars and more rules. Keep reading →


WASHINGTON: I walked past a sandy desert, a littoral waterway and a steamy jungle and watched a human-like robot extinguish a shipboard fire, all in about an hour and without leaving town.

It was possible because the Navy has opened a new Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) on the grounds of the Naval Research Laboratory, just across the Anacostia River from downtown.

“This really is a one-of-a-kind laboratory that we expect will provide future sailors and Marines with better tools to do their jobs,” Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval Research, told reporters after the tour of LASR. “Under this one roof are all the environments our sailors and Marines could face,” Klunder said.

Klunder noted that the improved autonomous systems that will come out of the new facility fit nicely with the new national strategic directive that focuses the U.S. military’s efforts on the Asia-Pacific region and the “anti-access, area-denial threat.”

Although the admiral did not say it, that A2AD threat is poised primarily by China, although Iran is attempting to achieve similar capabilities in the Persian Gulf.

The 50,000 square foot facility cost about $17.7 million. But Klunder and the scientists who briefed reporters on their work all emphasized that LASR will allow them to conduct more extensive tests of prototype systems and concepts in the same building in which they develop them, reducing the need for expensive and time-consuming trips to test ranges around the country.

“This building will save the military a lot of money and we will be able to complete testing a lot faster,” said Glenn Henshaw, one of the seven PhDs who showed off their work.

The LASR team also showed off Lucas, a six-foot tall robot with an expressive face that responded with clear distress when he received conflicting instructions in a shipboard fire-fighting situation. Then Lucas brightened when the instructions were corrected and recommended the proper equipment to fight the fire.

Lucas’ partner, Octavia, then demonstrated the ability to follow oral commands and hand signals to find and extinguish a fire in a simulated shipboard space. Keep reading →