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 →

DARPA robot

  OLD CROWS CONFERENCE:  People fear drones. People fear “killer robots.” People fear death by push button. People need to put away their fears and remember that computing power, coupled with automation and rules-based decision-making, has saved many lives and is likely to save many more than any runaway robot ever will kill. That was… 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 →

AUSA: As US forces draw down in Afghanistan, there will be ever fewer troops to stand guard on base perimeters — and ever less public tolerance for any of them getting hurt. That’s the opportunity Norwegian arms-maker Kongsberg wants to seize with its Containerized Weapon Station, a sort of jack-in-the-box machinegun to protect forward bases.

Kongsberg is already the leading manufacturer of remotely-controlled gun mounts for Humvees and other US military vehicles, the Army having ordered more than 10,000 of its CROWS system (Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station). Instead of having to stick their heads and shoulders out of a hatch to fire, gunners can use a CROWS system to scan for targets, aim, and shoot while safely inside and under armor. 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 →

LAS VEGAS: The US military depends on drones. But amidst the justifiable excitement over the rise of the robots, it’s easy to overlook that today’s unmanned systems are not truly autonomous but rather require a lot of human guidance by remote control — and bad design often makes the human’s job needlessly awkward, to the point of causing crashes. Fixing that is the next big challenge for the unmanned industry.

“Too many screens with too much information, folks” — that’s the bottom line, said Col. John Dougherty, a Predator operations commander with the North Dakota National Guard, speaking at a workshop on the first day of 2012 conference of the Association for Unmanned Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) here in Vegas. “I am tired of all these black panels all over the place,” Dougherty went on, urging designers to “de-clutter for sanity.” But instead, he lamented, “they keep strapping the stuff on,” adding more and more sub-systems each with its own unique and user-unfriendly display. Keep reading →

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