• Killer robotsLosing control: The dangers of killer robots

    By Bonnie Docherty

    New technology could lead humans to relinquish control over decisions to use lethal force. As artificial intelligence advances, the possibility that machines could independently select and fire on targets is fast approaching. Fully autonomous weapons, also known as “killer robots,” are quickly moving from the realm of science fiction toward reality. While the process of creating international law is notoriously slow, countries can move quickly to address the threats of fully autonomous weapons. They should seize the opportunity presented by the Convention on Conventional Weapons review conference, to be held this December, because the alternative is unacceptable: Allowing technology to outpace diplomacy would produce dire and unparalleled humanitarian consequences.

  • RoboticsHazardous-devices teams compete at the Robot Rodeo, 14-17 June

    Hazardous-devices teams from around the Southwest will wrangle their bomb-squad robots at the tenth annual Robot Rodeo beginning Tuesday, 14 June, at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “The Robot Rodeo gives bomb-squad teams the opportunity to practice and hone their skills in a lively but low-risk setting,” said a member of the Laboratory’s hazardous-devices team.

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  • Infrastructure protectionRobot offers safer, more efficient way to inspect power lines

    Currently, line crews have to suit up in protective clothing, employ elaborate safety procedures, and sometimes completely shut off the power before inspecting a power line. It can be difficult, time-consuming, and often dangerous work. Researchers have invented a robot which could change the way power lines are inspected — providing a safer and more cost-effective alternative.

  • Killer robotsPressure mounts to keep human control over killer robots

    Fully autonomous weapons would go a step beyond existing remote-controlled drones as they would be able to select and engage targets without human intervention. Although these weapons do not exist yet, the rapid movement of technology from human “in-the-loop” weapons systems toward “out-of-the-loop” systems is attracting international attention and concern. Countries should retain meaningful human control over weapons systems and ban fully autonomous weapons, also known as “killer robots,” Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic said in a new report. The concept of meaningful human control will be a centerpiece of deliberations at a week-long multilateral meeting on the weapons, opening 11 April 2016, at the United Nations in Geneva.

  • Robot warshipSea Hunter, world’s first robot warship

    At the Pentagon nowadays, you are starting to see robots everywhere. They dispose of bombs, and throw out the occasional first pitch. They help Marines improve their target shooting. And, if they are human-robot teams that entered last year’s DARPA Robotic Challenged Finals, they drive vehicles, use tools, open doors, climb stairs, and do all sorts of other things. Now another robot — one designed and built by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — happens to be the very first robot warship.

  • EmergenciesIn emergencies, don’t trust a robot too much

    In emergencies, people may trust robots too much for their own safety, a new study suggests. In a mock building fire, test subjects followed instructions from an “Emergency Guide Robot” even after the machine had proven itself unreliable — and after some participants were told that robot had broken down.

  • DronesFast, lightweight autonomous air vehicle completes first flight data tests

    DARPA’s Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) technologies could be useful in addressing a pressing surveillance shortfall. Military teams patrolling dangerous overseas urban environments, and rescue teams responding to disasters such as earthquakes or floods, currently can use remotely piloted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to provide a bird’s-eye view of the situation, but to know what is going on inside an unstable building or a threatening indoor space often requires physical entry, which can put troops or civilian response teams in danger.

  • RoboticsAutonomous underwater vehicles pre-programmed to make independent decisions

    More than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, yet scientists know more about space than about what happens in the ocean. One way scientists are trying to improve their understanding of the marine environment is through the use of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), programmable robotic vehicles that can independently study the ocean and its inhabitants.

  • In the trenchesTechnologies enabling automated lookouts for unmanned surface vessels sought

    DARPA’s Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program seeks to develop a new type of unmanned surface vessel that could independently track adversaries’ ultra-quiet diesel-electric submarines over thousands of miles. ACTUV program invites input so future unmanned ships could operate safely near manned maritime vessels in all weather and traffic conditions, day or night.

  • RoboticsSnake robots learn to turn by emulating real sidewinders

    Researchers who develop snake-like robots have picked up a few tricks from real sidewinder rattlesnakes on how to make rapid and even sharp turns with their undulating, modular device. Working with colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Zoo Atlanta, they have analyzed the motions of sidewinders and tested their observations on snake robots. They showed how the complex motion of a sidewinder can be described in terms of two wave motions — vertical and horizontal body waves — and how changing the phase and amplitude of the waves enables snakes to achieve exceptional maneuverability.

  • IEDsRemote-controlled robot inspects suitcase bombs

    Abandoned items of luggage are frequently found at airports and train stations. This is a case for the emergency services, which have to assume that these items might contain bombs. They must assess the potential threat quickly, avert any possible danger, and preserve evidence for criminal proceedings. In the future, police will have the support of a remote-controlled sensor system as they go about their duties. Researchers are developing this sensor suite in cooperation with industry partners and criminal investigation authorities.

  • Search & rescueSnake robot range-sensing control system improves search-and-rescue performance

    Rescue operations at disaster scenes often use robots to avoid further human danger. Modelling robots on snakes can provide better access through narrow paths in rubble, but previous models which control snake robots by the head do not adequately avoid collisions between the body of the robot and surrounding obstacles. Researchers say that to be more effective in search and rescue missions, robotic snakes should comprise a series of sections joined by links which either pitch up and down or yaw through sideways turning angles.

  • Search & rescue Locust-inspired robot traverses rocky terrain, assists in search and rescue

    Since the 1980s, advanced robotic platforms have provided assistance to crisis intervention teams in the wake of man-made and natural disasters. The objective of such robots, in various sizes and shapes, has been to intervene where humans cannot and send life-saving data to rescue teams in the field. A new, locust-inspired robot, can jump eleven feet high — more than twice the height of similar-sized robots — and cover a horizontal distance of 4.5 feet in one leap. The researchers believe the robot will perform well in search-and-rescue missions and in reconnaissance operations in rough terrain.

  • Unmanned maritime systemsUnmanned Maritime Systems 2015 conference: “Reliability, Economy, Endurance”

    The theme of the Unmanned Maritime Systems 2015 conference, being held 7-9 December 2015 in Arlington, Virginia, is “Reliability, Economy, Endurance: Requirements for Next-Generation Unmanned Surface and Undersea Systems.” The organizers note that there is a growing demand for Unmanned Maritime Systems (UMS) as today’s geopolitical environment poses a number of unique security challenges in the maritime domain. Advances in power, robotics, computing, sensors, and navigation technologies drive a growing DoD demand for unmanned systems that can provide increased autonomy, persistent resilience, and functionality with decreased risk and expense, showing their value across multiple applications, including otherwise dull, dirty, or dangerous missions.

  • In the trenchesMost people object to fully autonomous weapons: Survey

    Public opinion is against the use of autonomous weapons capable of identifying and destroying targets without human input, according to a new survey. “It has been said that future wars will be fought with completely automated systems,” said one of the researchers behind the survey. “The survey results clearly show that more public discussion is necessary so that we can make intelligent decisions about robotic weapon technologies.”