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Chapter 2. Robot Evolution > Robot Warriors

Robot Warriors

While art-bot builders such as Mark Pauline and Christian Ristow like their robots to make artistic statements about human conflict, our fear of machines, the animal impulse to kill, and so forth, other builders are creating bots to serve human conflict, to generate fear of machines, and to assist soldiers on the battlefield. This is the realm of real combat robotics. Recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have been proving grounds for such robotic warriors as the Predator UAV (Unmanned Arial Vehicle). First fielded as a spy drone, Predators are now being used as remotely controlled warplanes, carrying laser-guided Hellfire missiles. A “pilot” can sit in an army command center in the U.S. and attack a target halfway around the world. We won’t get into the chilling implications of this type of warfare here, but feel free to ruminate on your own.

So far, most of the military robot development has been focused on extending the eyes and ears of soldiers through “man portable” machines that can scout ahead of a unit. One such robot type, called a throwbot, looks like a toilet-tank float. The soldier throws it toward the area he or she wants to explore, and the robot deploys a spiky set of wheels and rolls toward the target area. A laptop or handheld computer shows what the throwbot sees through its onboard camera. IRobot is one of the leading developers of battlefield robotics. Its PackBot is another man-portable system. It is designed to function as a platform to accommodate a number of different applications, from doing reconnaissance such as a throwbot, to sensing biochemical weapons, to carrying ordinance onto the battlefield, and even as a robot ambulance for carrying injured combatants to safety.


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