Washington University in St. Louis
Thursday, Aug 7, 2008
War casualties are typically kept behind tightly closed doors, but one company keeps the mangled pieces of its first casualty on display. This is no ordinary soldier, though — it is Packbot from the iRobot Corporation.
Robots in the military are no longer the stuff of science fiction. They have left the movie screen and entered the battlefield. Washington University in St. Louis’s Doug Few and Bill Smart are on the cutting edge of this new wave of technology. Few and Smart report that the military goal is to have approximately 30% of the Army comprised of robotic forces by approximately 2020. Of course, they aren’t envisioning robotic soldiers from movies like “Star Wars” and “I, Robot.”
“When the military says ‘robot’ they mean everything from self-driving trucks up to what you would conventionally think of as a robot. You would more accurately call them autonomous systems rather than robots,” says Smart assistant professor of computer science and engineering.
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All of the Army’s robotic force is teleoperated, meaning there is someone operating the robot from a remote location, perhaps often with a joystick and a computer screen. While this may seem like a caveat in plans to add robots to the military, it is actually very important to keep humans involved in the robotic operations.
“It’s a chain of command thing. You don’t want to give autonomy to a weapons delivery system. You want to have a human hit the button,” says Smart. “You don’t want the robot to make the wrong decision. You want to have a human to make all of the important decisions.”
This article was posted: Thursday, August 7, 2008 at 12:41 pm