Shape of things to comeDARPA seeks damage tolerant technology for killer robots

Published 16 December 2008

The U.S. military — and other militaries — are interested in robots that can autonomously operate weapon systems and make decisions about when to fire; such systems, however, are as vulnerable as human beings to enemy fire; “damage tolerant technology” will make them less vulnerable

We have written about the growing interest of the U.S. military — and other militaries — in killer robots: Robots which would not only operate weapons, but which would be equipped with the ability to make autonomous decisions about when to open fire — and at whom (see, for example, 18 September 2008 and 28 February 2008 HS Daily Wire). Early versions of such robots are already deployed — by the South Korean military along the DMZ and by the Israeli army around the Gaza Strip.

As is the case with human soldiers, though, these robots can be hit by enemy fire and destroyed. The U.S. military, therefore, wants future killer robots to be built with “damage tolerance” technology.

Register’s Lewis Page writes that for some years now, DARPA has been working with robot company Rockwell Collins to develop robosoftware able to take account of the damage done to the robot by enemy fire and offer work-arounds to keep the machine working. The company calls this Damage Tolerant Control Programs. Tests to date have seen small aerial robots lose large chunks of themselves, yet carry on with their mission.

Page writes that that the Damage Tolerance technology has moved to Phase Three. This phase “includes integration and flight demonstration of the technology. The objective of the flight demonstration is to show the utility of these technologies on an operationally representative [killer robot].”

The U.S. military already operates the MQ9 - Reaper, a large, five-ton aerial robot armed with a  panoply of target-seeking missiles and smart bombs, designated by the military as “Hunter killer weapons system.”