Friday, September 11, 2009

Our Guardians and Keepers - the Robot Revolution continues

With a view to increasing the number of more positive posts on this blog, I wanted to share some recent developments in rescue robotics, including work I am directly involved with myself.

It is unfortunate that we in the West (and the Anglosophere in particular) have a perpetually negative relationship with technology generally and robots in particular. Whilst the narrative of a robot/AI takeover has taken deep roots in our culture and thinking, in places such as Japan and South Korea, robots are regarded primarily as friends (and this is despite producing and deploying some frightening capable fighting robots such as the Samsung sentry).

The field of robotics/AI has been advancing at an incredible pace recently - many practicioners in the field are now pointing out that their work is racing ahead of that produced by many science fiction authors. Whilst there is a substantial amount of controversy over how soon we might create a true AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), or whether it is even possible to do so, the other areas of robotics are racing ahead. And, despite the doom-mongers' views on robotic dictatorship, all of the important ethical questions still come down to politics - as in what uses technologies are put, who controls them and for what ends.

Unlike some technologies, such as genetically engineered food or nanoparticles, the important issues in robotics / AI don't particularly require the precautionary principle. Its an area we can forge ahead in with abandon and what will fuck people up isn't the technology itself, but the prevailing systems of power. The latest generation of fighting robots are frighteningly capable. Should we ever again see a massed land battle between two clearly demarcated opposing forces, those with the robots will wipe out any infantry force on the planet (and no, they won't take over, if the operators lose control, they'll just fall over - probably within days, if not hours without servicing). The decisions to kill will still rest with the humans - and this applies even to autonomous and semi-autonomous robots - if they are deployed and given a 'kill zone'; its still the humans giving the orders and occupies the same suspect moral space as dropping napalm or a nuke - a robot will kill just as indiscriminately.


For people terrified by Daleks:

Or check out the Anna Konda ( prototype:

This will be able to work its way into collapsed areas and also - with the right sensors (currently a matter of debate what the most effective means of detecting human casualties is), find survivors.

Ole 'Pill bug' robot
Just a concept at the moment unfortunately - unfortunate because its a really good idea:
- However, see our work on swarm robotics below:

The American Firerob (
(Look away again if you don't like Daleks...)

Particularly impressive is its heat resistance - 400 degrees C, up to 1000 C in short exposures.


Brazil's SACI



In fact - looking at the similarities between some of the fire-fighting robots and Daleks, the daleks do actually look like a good design for fire-fighting (on flat terrain). Who knew?

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