For those of you that have been following the news recently there’s an ongoing debate regarding the use of fully autonomous killer robots. On 30 May 2013 in Geneva nations for the first time have debated what to do about fully autonomous weapons at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

According to Moore’s Law “over the history of computing hardware the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.” This often results in technology advancing at a faster rate than human morals or social norms can adapt to.

And we aren’t talking about Robbie the Robot, Will Robinson’s faithful sidekick (although he’d certainly be helpful around the house.)

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So we thought considering the current debate it’s worthwhile taking a look at some of these killer robots.

Drones:

Anybody who watches, reads or leaves the house and chats with our non robotic counterparts will have heard about the ongoing usage of automated drones in the “War on Terror”. Recently there’s been a lot of discussion about the possible use of these automated behemoths being used on civilian populations.

MQ-9 Reaper

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The Mq-9 Reaper (formerly called the Predator B) is capable of remote controlled or autonomous flight. The Reaper has a 950-shaft-horsepower (712 kW) turboprop engine.

Although they may look like like toys they are anything but. The Reaper can hunt for targets and observe terrain using a number of sensors, including a thermal camera. One estimate has the on-board camera able to read a license plate from two miles (3 km) away. An operator’s command takes 1.2 seconds to reach the drone via a satellite link. The MQ-9 is fitted with six stores pylons. The inner stores pylons can carry a maximum of 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms) each and allow carriage of external fuel tanks. The mid-wing stores pylons can carry a maximum of 600 pounds (270 kilograms) each, while the outer stores pylons can carry a maximum of 200 pounds (90 kilograms) each. An MQ-9 with two 1,000 pound (450 kilogram) external fuel tanks and a thousand pounds of munitions has an endurance of 42 hours.The Reaper has an endurance of 14 hours when fully loaded with munitions. The MQ-9 carries a variety of weapons including the Paveway II laser-guided bomb, the AGM Helfire II air-to-ground missiles, and the AIM-9 Sidewinder.

Interesting fact, the Reapers predecessor can be traced all the way back to WW1 with the invention of the Radioplane built by Reginald Denny, by WW2 the US Army was using over fifteen thousands radio drones against enemy combatants.

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MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System)

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The MAARS robot is developed by Foster-Miller and intended as a fully autonomous platform to assist American soldiers in combat. It’s this type of hardware that’s causing all the debate in Geneva due to it’s autonomous nature. The unit features new software controls, which allow the robot’s driver to select fire and no-fire zones.  The idea is keep the robots from accidentally shooting a flesh-and-blood American.  A mechanical range fan also keeps MAARS’ gun pointed away from friendly positions.

The robot is also equipped with a GPS transmitter, so it can be seen on — and tap into — the American battlefield mapping program just like tanks and Humvees.  These “Blue Force Trackers” have been credited with dramatically reducing friendly-fire incidents during the Iraq war.  MAARS comes with an extra fail-safe, which won’t allow it to fire directly at its own control unit. (phew!)

PackBot – Tactical Robot

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The Packbot is built by IRobot and first used by Us ground troops in 2002. IRobot has an interesting history all of its own (and a very cool name to boot) as they develop both Military and consumer items, anybody heard of the Roomba.?

The PackBot is characterized by distinctive “flippers” which offer continuous 360 degrees rotation and negotiation of rough terrain and obstacles such as stairs, rocks, logs, rubble and debris. The platform can climb grades up to 60% and survive submersion in water up to two meter deep. It is built to survive drop from two meter height, on a concrete surface, or being thrown through a window or tumbling downstairs. The 18 kg robot can be carried in a backpack, and deployed in a few minutes. Part of the success of the platform comes from it’s adaptability with several variations offered, the Packbots utilized for exploration, carrying gear and supplies as well as bomb disposal.. now if only they’d make a model that can clean up my dishes.

Regardless of how you feel about the often sinister use of these technologies you have to admit that the constant leaps forward in design and deployment are impressive, and I’m very excited to see what’s around the corner.

A special thanks to Wikipedia, Cnet and IRobot for their use of imagery.

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