Perhaps you thought the four-legged BigDog robot wasn’t eerily lifelike enough. That’ll change soon. BigDog’s makers are working on a new quadruped that moves faster than any human and is agile enough to “chase and evade.”
Boston Dynamics, maker of the Army’s BigDog robotic mule, announced today that Darpa has awarded it a contract to build a much faster and more fearsome animal-like robot, Cheetah.
As the name implies, Cheetah is designed to be a four-legged robot with a flexible spine and articulated head (and potentially a tail) that runs faster than the fastest human. In addition to raw speed, Cheetah’s makers promise that it will have the agility to make tight turns so that it can “zigzag to chase and evade” and be able to stop on a dime.
Cheetah builds off work on the company’s previous four legged animal bot, BigDog. It was built as a kind of unmanned pack mule, designed to carry equipment for troops on the battlefield. The robotic donkey could carry 300 lbs. over 13 miles on flat ground, take a swift kick and keep on moving. It’s creepy, lifelike movement can be seen on a number of videos online, climbing over hills and snow and hiking alongside soldiers, using GPS coordinates as its waypoints.
Aside from its unspecified military applications, Cheetah’s makers see it galloping to the rescue and building a brave new future in the fields of “emergency response, firefighting, advanced agriculture and vehicular travel.”
Think that’s creepy? Wait till you see its humanoid, Terminator look-alike buddy.
Meet Atlas, Cheetah’s humanoid pal. Atlas is supposed to look more or less like the T-800 series of Terminators, minus the head. Its designers say it’ll be able to walk like a human over rough terrain, crawling on its hands and knees when necessary and turning itself sideways to slip through any narrow passages it encounters. Headless, with a torso and two arms, it’s a step up from Boston Dynamics’ other biped, the lower-body-bot Petman.
Petman was built to test out chemical weapons protective suits for the Army by “walking, crawling and doing a variety of suit-stressing calisthenics” and “simulat[ing] human physiology.” Designers made it capable of walking heel-to-toe at 3.2 miles per hour and staying upright even after it gets pushed.
As the new models go into development, let’s hope Cheetah never develops a taste for human flesh and that Atlas doesn’t have any hard feelings about its predecessor being a poison-gas guinea pig for the Army.
Images: Boston Dynamics
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If you go to this link and listen to it 3 times in a row…. you tell me why the church banned this ghost band?
Please leave your comments on the original page… and wait to see what happens….guess what the church was scared off???
lets see who posts the right answer before October 31 2010
Banned by the Catholic Church
Categories: Sound Oddities
Sound Clip: Shepard Tone by Roger Shepard
This is a classic sound oddity and illusion. Or is it? There are some corrections to this post with much discussion, see below and follow the trail of comments to clarify the inaccuracies.
“It is rumored to be called the “devil’s tone” by the Catholic church. The Shepard tone is a sound consisting of a superposition of sine waves separated by octaves. When played with the base pitch of the tone moving upwards or downwards, it is referred to as the
Shepard Scale. This creates an auditory illusion that continually ascends or descends in pitch, yet which ultimately seems to get no higher or lower.”
Corrections here and below in comments from Brent Williams:
“Baned by the Catholic Church“, about a Shepard-Risset Glissando. This post contained links to certain webpages, but when the post went up (even before it was moderated) the links were missing. Just in case you want to put them up for your readers, here they are:
The original source page for this sound file is here . It is in French.
You can find the Wiki source page here . This contains a little more info on the sound. This is where I confirmed that the sound is a minor chord of synchronised Shepard-Risset glissandi.
Read about Diana Deutsch here . She is currently a Professor at UCSD.
All the best, and please continue with your excellent website.
Categories: Sound Oddities -
The International Center for 9/11 Studies has secured the release of hundreds of hours of video footage and tens of thousands of photographs used by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for its investigation of the collapse of the World Trade Center Twin Towers and Building 7. This material is being released to the Center under the Freedom of Information Act, in response to a lawsuit the Center filed against NIST.
The Center filed a FOIA Request with NIST on January 26, 2009, seeking production of “all of the photographs and videos collected, reviewed, cited or in any other way used by NIST during its investigation of the World Trade Center building collapses.” Following several unsuccessful attempts to get NIST to even acknowledge receipt of the Request, the Center was forced to file a lawsuit on May 28, 2009. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the Request was assigned a reference number, and NIST began periodically releasing batches of responsive records. To date, the Center has received over 300 DVDs and several external hard disk drives that contain responsive records – more than 3 terabytes of data so far – and NIST has indicated that additional records will be released in the future.
We are currently looking at the best ways to distribute these materials to interested researchers and journalists around the world. It has taken NIST more than 8 months so far to produce a partial archive of photographs and videos in their possession, but we hope to be more efficient in our efforts. Because of the huge volume of data, we are working on a wiki-style website to facilitate review and discussion of any interesting items that are discovered by researchers.
Justin Keogh, our Chief Technical Officer, is preparing the website and materials for release. The first batch of materials we are releasing is a group of video clips sent to us on an external hard disk drive labeled “NIST WTC Investigation Cumulus Video Clips.” We believe NIST entered these clips into a searchable database called the Cumulus database, and used them as the basis for the investigation and reports. Researchers may be interested to see which video clips NIST determined were important to its investigation, and compare these clips to the raw footage we release at a later date. Justin will be posting more details about the data release in the next week or two. Any questions about the FOIA Request, lawsuit, or data release should be submitted via the Contact Us page at the Center’s website: http://www.ic911studies.org/Contact_Us.html
Although the Center has extremely limited resources with which it can review this mountain of data, several interesting items have already been discovered. Below are five items the Center has uncovered so far. The items below have not been altered from the original provided by NIST, except in three cases where a short section of footage was extracted from a much longer video. Otherwise, no alterations have been made to the video or audio. For the best viewing experience, you should watch all of the videos below in the highest resolution available. We will supplement the list below in the coming days and weeks.
1. Video Footage of Explosion Before Collapse
In the video below, at about the 0:59 mark, a high-pressure explosion occurs in one of the Twin Towers, below the impact zone, while the building is still standing.
In the final report on the collapse of the Twin Towers issued by NIST, it appears to attempt an explanation for this explosion by suggesting it is a smoke puff resulting from a pressure pulse inside the building, perhaps from a collapsing wall or ceiling, or sudden opening of a door. (See NCSTAR1-5A, p. 52) However, as can be seen from the screen capture below, it isn’t merely smoke and dust being ejected. There appears to be a massive object being ejected along with the explosion.
2. Audio Evidence of Explosions During Collapse
Several videos released to the Center have clear audio tracks that contain distinct sounds of explosions occurring at the World Trade Center. These audio tracks provide support to the many eyewitness statements referring to explosions occurring when the buildings collapsed. Explosions can be heard at the initiation of the South Tower collapse in the following two videos. The explosions are clear enough at normal volumes, but turning your speaker volume up a bit can help provide a full appreciation of the sound.
The video below contains distinct sounds of explosions occurring throughout the collapse of the North Tower. The native audio track is at very low volume, so your speakers should be turned up enough to hear the explosions. (Please be careful to turn your volume back down after watching this video.)
In the next video, a loud, low-frequency boom can be heard just before the east penthouse of WTC 7 falls.
David Chandler will soon be publishing a video that contains a more in depth analysis of this footage, including audio enhancements of the explosion.
3. Visual Evidence of Explosions During Collapse
Several videos also have clear visible explosions that occur above the airplane impact/collapse zone in the South Tower. In the video below, the collapse begins at about the 3:45 mark. If you watch the corner of the South Tower nearest the camera, at a point about halfway between the airplane impact zone and the top of the building, you will see puffs of smoke and a flash at about the 3:49-3:50 mark. The corner of the building also appears to lose structural support (or “kink”) at this same location. These are the obvious result of explosive charges severing the steel structure at the near corner.
In the next video, a similar phenomenon can be seen, but from a different angle and not quite as clearly.
The video below is raw footage from a news outlet of the South Tower exploding. Explosions can be seen ahead of the collapse front. The newscaster even calls it a “huge explosion.”
4. Missing Video
Several clips from the Cumulus database show signs of editing. In the two video clips below, the collapse of the penthouse of World Trade Center 7 is cut out of the video. These videos happen to have been filmed from close to WTC 7, and have a high quality soundtrack that would have picked up explosion sounds from the charges that severed the columns supporting the penthouse, especially the explosion heard in the last video clip presented in item 2 above.
Another clip from the Cumulus database (below) begins after initiation of the WTC 7 collapse. The soundtrack is curiously silent during the entire collapse, only to turn on after the collapse has already finished.
In the next video, the camera catches the South Tower collapse from very close to the building. The initiation of the collapse is missing and appears to have been cut from the original.
The video clip below also begins after collapse initiation.
There are many video clips in the Cumulus database that do not show collapse initiation – the only event even purportedly explained in the final report from NIST on the Twin Towers.
5. Footage of WTC 7 Before Collapse
The video below is a series of clips taken near World Trade Center 7 after at least one of the Twin Towers has collapsed. This video shows Michael Hess yelling for help from the 8th floor window, beginning at about the 1:09 mark.
- Tania Branigan in Beijing and agencies
- guardian.co.uk, Sunday 24 January 2010 15.49 GMT
- Article history
A protest over the Iranian election in Washington last June. Photograph: Molly Riley/Reuters
The United States used “online warfare” to stir up unrest in Iran after last year’s elections, the Chinese Communist party newspaper claimed today, hitting back at Hillary Clinton’s speech last week about internet freedom.
An editorial in the People’s Daily accused the US of launching a “hacker brigade” and said it had used social media such as Twitter to spread rumours and create trouble.
“Behind what America calls free speech is naked political scheming. How did the unrest after the Iranian election come about?” said the editorial, signed by Wang Xiaoyang. “It was because online warfare launched by America, via YouTube video and Twitter microblogging, spread rumours, created splits, stirred up and sowed discord between the followers of conservative reformist factions.”
Washington said at the time of the unrest that it had asked Twitter, which was embraced by Iranian anti-government protesters, to remain open. Several social media sites, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, have been blocked in China in the last year.
The editorial asked rhetorically whether obscenity or activities promoting terrorism would be allowed on the net in the US. “We’re afraid that in the eyes of American politicians, only information controlled by America is free information, only news acknowledged by America is free news, only speech approved by America is free speech, and only information flow that suits American interests is free information flow,” it added.
It attacked the decision to cut off of Microsoft’s instant messaging services to nations covered by US sanctions, including Cuba, Iran, Syria, Sudan and North Korea, as violating America’s stated desire for free information flow. Washington later said that such services fostered democracy and encouraged their restoration.
China initially gave a low-key response to Google’s announcement that it was no longer willing to censor google.cn. The internet giant said it had reached its decision following a Chinese-originated cyber attack targeting the email accounts of human rights activists, and in light of increasing online censorship.
Clinton’s direct challenge to China, in a speech that had echoes of the cold war with its references to the Berlin wall and an “information curtain”, led Beijing to warn that US criticism could damage bilateral relations. Clinton called on China to hold a full and open investigation into the December attack on Google.
In an interview carried by several Chinese newspapers today, Zhou Yonglin, deputy operations director of the national computer network emergency response technical team, said: “Everyone with technical knowledge of computers knows that just because a hacker used an IP address in China, the attack was not necessarily launched by a Chinese hacker.”
US diplomats sought to reach out to the Chinese public by briefing bloggers in China on Friday. They held a similar meeting during Barack Obama’s visit in November.
By Tony Capaccio
Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) — The Air Force as soon as Christmas Day will deliver to Afghanistan the first of 24 new Hawker Beechcraft Corp. planes modified by L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. to support ground troops with video, still images and eavesdropping.
The four-man, twin-propeller plane “should arrive on or shortly after Dec. 25th,” about one month ahead of schedule, Lieutenant General David Deptula, who oversees Air Force intelligence and reconnaissance, said in an e-mail today.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the service in April 2008 to dramatically increase the number of manned and unmanned aircraft providing intelligence to ground troops. The planes will help support the 30,000 additional troops President Barack Obama ordered to Afghanistan. Six of the new spy planes already are flying missions in Iraq.
The Air Force is setting up stations at its air bases at Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, and Bagram, near Kabul, the capital, to receive and process data and then send it along to ground troops.
The planes also can beam images and video directly to ground troops, who will be equipped with L-3 Communications ‘‘Rovers” — laptop devices that allow soldiers to see the same images as airborne operators. Almost 5,000 Rovers have been delivered to the U.S. military by L-3 Communications.
The Air Force also will give the Army about 50 of the latest-generation Rovers — hand-held versions that allow soldiers via satellite link both to receive images and to tell pilots where to direct the plane’s cameras, Deptula said.
The new planes provide “full-motion video and specialized signals intelligence” and all 24 should be in Afghanistan by September, Deptula said.
The aircraft will augment round-the-clock surveillance now provided by unmanned Predator drones.
The modified planes are equipped with both high-resolution and heat-sensing cameras produced by New York City-based L-3 Communications Holdings, Inc. and with radios from Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co. and Melbourne, Florida-based Harris Corp.
The planes also are equipped with sensors that can monitor insurgents’ conversations and help pinpoint their location, said Jeffrey Richelson, author of the “U.S. Intelligence Community,” a detailed compendium now in its fifth edition.
The sensors are provided by the National Security Agency, which manages U.S. eavesdropping satellites.
“It’s a lot of intelligence and dissemination capability in a small package,” Richelson said. The planes, with self- protective equipment, are “also clearly designed for a combat environment,” he said.
Congress this year approved $950 million to buy as many as 37 aircraft from Wichita, Kansas-based Hawker Beechcraft Corp. The planes can fly as high as 35,000 feet and orbit for as long as five hours. They are modified at L-3 Communication’s Greenville, Texas, facility.
Last Updated: December 21, 2009 15:24 EST
A Soldier’s Eye in the Sky
FORT BLISS, Tex. — The soldiers crouched beneath the blazing desert sun, waiting to burst into the villages in conditions similar to those they have encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But this time, they got some high-tech help in an exercise intended to prove that new devices operated by the soldiers themselves can make those harrowing missions less dangerous in the future.
As the mock attack began on the sprawling military base here, tiny drones hovered overhead, peering through the windows to see insurgents gathered inside the houses. Small robots — like R2-D2 in “Star Wars” — crawled through some of the doors, flashing back live video of the startled enemy’s positions. Electronic sensors placed nearby watched escape routes. And a battery of six-foot-high missiles stood at the ready farther out in the desert to destroy vehicles that tried to rush in to help the insurgents.
“When I was in Iraq, we couldn’t see what we were busting into,” said Specialist Randall Thompson, who operates the robots. “But with this equipment, we can at least get a peek.”
Army officials are trying to distance the relatively small-scale effort, which still faces some technical hurdles, from the shadow of a much broader program recently canceled that was to have created a truly modern military, with a new generation of combat vehicles and a vast wireless network.
As they go back to the drawing board for the big equipment, Army officials say these smaller technologies could make a difference sooner for the soldiers who take on some of the most dangerous missions hunting out insurgents.
The new equipment, being developed by Boeing and other contractors, is expected to cost about $2 billion for the first seven brigades. Each has at least 3,000 soldiers, and the equipment is about two years away from use in the field. By 2025, the Army plans to create similar gear and other improvements for all 73 of its active and reserve brigades.
The changes also illustrate a shift in Pentagon contracting toward more incremental upgrades and a greater use of commercial technologies. For instance, iRobot, a Massachusetts company that has developed robots for home vacuum-cleaning and industrial uses, is building the Army’s robots.
Officials say the new devices will help transform basic infantry brigades, which have shouldered the bulk of the fighting in both wars even though they have far less protection and firepower than armored units.
The drones resemble flying lawnmower engines about the size of a beer keg that land on four curved wire feet. With the cameras on the drones acting like spotters, the ground-launched six-foot missiles, called “rockets in a box,” will eventually enable soldiers to destroy hostile forces more than 20 miles away without having to call in help from artillery units or other aircraft, Army officials say.
The robots could also search caves and cars at hazardous checkpoints. And the sensors could guard outposts and monitor areas cleared of insurgents, freeing more soldiers to fight.
“I think the difference is going to be huge,” Lt. Gen. Stephen M. Speakes, a deputy Army chief of staff, said in an interview.
Col. Lee Fetterman, who is helping to oversee the testing here, said the new technologies were “methods of transferring risk from soldiers to machines, which we’re all for.”
The defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, broke up the broader effort to modernize the Army, called Future Combat Systems, in June. He was concerned about potential cost increases — it was headed for at least $160 billion — and he questioned whether the new combat vehicles would provide enough protection against roadside bombs.
Compared with that broader vision, “it seems like an awful lot of expectations have come down to a pretty small litter,” said Representative Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat of Hawaii, who heads a House subcommittee that oversees the Army.
Mr. Gates, who ordered the Army to go back to the drawing board on the combat vehicles, and Congressional leaders like Mr. Abercrombie have urged the military to supply the enhancements for the infantry as quickly as it can.
So 1,150 soldiers, most with experience in Iraq or Afghanistan, have been testing the gear here at Fort Bliss, which straddles Texas and New Mexico, and the adjacent White Sands Missile Range, where the mix of desert, mountains and 100-degree temperatures echo recent combat conditions.
Most of the soldiers are enthusiastic about the new capabilities. Some Army units already have tiny hand-held drones and robots that can disarm roadside bombs while the operator is a safe distance away. But the new drones, made by Honeywell, are designed to hover over a crucial spot on a battlefield like helicopters, instead of flying in a wide circle. And if an assault squad needed, for example, to toss the 35-pound robot though a window, where it happened to land on its back, it would flip itself over and start shooting video.
The sensors, designed by Textron, send alerts and pictures from the field or from the inside of buildings. One device, which can be buried near a road, can even discern from seismic readings whether people, trucks or tanks are passing by or approaching.
The precision-guided missiles could represent a major advance. Fifteen of them can fit into a refrigerator-size launcher. They are being designed, by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, to go over or swerve around hills and mountains and update their course in midflight. The warheads are supposed to be powerful enough to destroy a moving tank, making infantry brigades more potent than ever.
But some of the systems have obvious flaws. Even from several hundred feet high, the drone sounds like a lawn mower, and Honeywell is looking to muffle the noise. The soldiers here have also suggested changes, like redesigning the field sensors to make them less detectable.
And Army officials say it will be the ability, which is still being developed, to link all these systems wirelessly that could provide the biggest enhancement.
In the tests, the soldiers controlling the drones, robots and sensors could receive streaming video on laptops or other devices. But the network does not have enough bandwidth or range to send more than photographs to platoon leaders in Humvees and from there on to headquarters.
Even the photos are a big improvement over the mostly voice and data communications now in use. But the Army expects a sophisticated new radio, which has run into costly delays, to be available to extend the network’s video capabilities by the time the new equipment goes into full production in 2011.
The Government Accountability Office, a Congressional watchdog agency, has warned that the Army is taking a risk in testing the rest of the gear before that radio transmitter is ready. But Army officials say they will take that chance to push out the new devices as quickly as possible.
“It’s like the saying goes: A picture is worth 1,000 words,” said Lt. Col. Kevin D. Hendricks, a battalion commander involved in the recent exercise.
“If I can get early warning that an armored vehicle is coming down the road, and I can hit that vehicle with a precision-guided munition before any of my soldiers come into contact with it, that’s the way I’d like to fight every war,” he added.
WASHINGTON — Robots are gaining on us humans.
Thanks to exponential increases in computer power — which is roughly doubling every two years — robots are getting smarter, more capable, more like flesh-and-blood people.
Matching human skills and intelligence, however, is an enormously difficult — perhaps impossible — challenge.
Nevertheless, robots guided by their own computer “brains” now can pick up and peel bananas, land jumbo jets, steer cars through city traffic, search human DNA for cancer genes, play soccer or the violin, find earthquake victims or explore craters on Mars.
At a “Robobusiness” conference in Boston last week, companies demonstrated a robot firefighter, gardener, receptionist, tour guide and security guard.
You name it, a high-tech wizard somewhere is trying to make a robot do it.
A Japanese housekeeping robot can move chairs, sweep the floor, load a tray of dirty dishes in a dishwasher and put dirty clothes in a washing machine.
Intel, the worldwide computer-chip maker, headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., has developed a self-controlled mobile robot called Herb, the Home Exploring Robotic Butler. Herb can recognize faces and carry out generalized commands such as “please clean this mess,” according to Justin Rattner, Intel’s chief technology officer.
In a talk last year titled “Crossing the Chasm Between Humans and Machines: the Next 40 Years,” the widely respected Rattner lent some credibility to the often-ridiculed effort to make machines as smart as people.
“The industry has taken much greater strides than anyone ever imagined 40 years ago,” Rattner said. It’s conceivable, he added, that “machines could even overtake humans in their ability to reason in the not-so-distant future.”
Programming a robot to perform household chores without breaking dishes or bumping into walls is hard enough, but creating a truly intelligent machine still remains far beyond human ability.
Artificial intelligence researchers have struggled for half a century to imitate the staggering complexity of the brain, even in creatures as lowly as a cockroach or fruit fly. Although computers can process data at lightning speeds, the trillions of ever-changing connections between animal and human brain cells surpass the capacity of even the largest supercomputers
“One day we will create a human-level artificial intelligence,” wrote Rodney Brooks, a robot designer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Mass. “But how and when we will get there — and what will happen after we do — are now the subjects of fierce debate.”
“We’re in a slow retreat in the face of the steady advance of our mind’s children,” agreed Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. “Eventually, we’re going to reach the point where everybody’s going to say, ‘Of course machines are smarter than we are.’ ”
“The truly interesting question is what happens after if we have truly intelligent robots,” Saffo said. “If we’re very lucky, they’ll treat us as pets. If not, they’ll treat us as food.”
Some far-out futurists, such as Ray Kurzweil, an inventor and technology evangelist in Wellesley Hills, a Boston suburb, predict that robots will match human intelligence by 2029, only 20 years from now. Other experts think that Kurzweil is wildly over-optimistic.
According to Kurzweil, robots will prove their cleverness by passing the so-called “Turing test.” In the test, devised by British computing pioneer Alan Turing in 1950, a human judge chats casually with a concealed human and a hidden machine. If the judge can’t tell which responses come from the human and which from the machine, the machine is said to show human-level intelligence.
“We can expect computers to pass the Turing test, indicating intelligence indistinguishable from that of biological humans, by the end of the 2020s,” Kurzweil wrote in his 2005 book, “The Singularity Is Near.”
To Kurzweil, the “singularity” is when a machine equals or exceeds human intelligence. It won’t come in “one great leap,” he said, “but lots of little steps to get us from here to there.”
Kurzweil has made a movie, also titled “The Singularity Is Near: A True Story About the Future,” that’s due in theaters this summer.
Intel’s Rattner is more conservative. He said that it would take at least until 2050 to close the mental gap between people and machines. Others say that it will take centuries, if it ever happens.
Some eminent thinkers, such as Steven Pinker, a Harvard cognitive scientist, Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel, and Mitch Kapor, a leading computer scientist in San Francisco, doubt that a robot can ever successfully impersonate a human being.
It’s “extremely difficult even to imagine what it would mean for a computer to perform a successful impersonation,” Kapor said. “While it is possible to imagine a machine obtaining a perfect score on the SAT or winning ‘Jeopardy’ — since these rely on retained facts and the ability to recall them — it seems far less possible that a machine can weave things together in new ways or . . . have true imagination in a way that matches everything people can do.”
Nevertheless, roboticists are working to make their mechanical creatures seem more human. The Japanese are particularly fascinated with “humanoid” robots, with faces, movements and voices resembling their human masters.
A fetching female robot model from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology lab in Tsukuba, Japan, sashays down a runway, turns and bows when “she” meets a real girl.
“People become emotionally attached” to robots, Saffo said. Two-thirds of the people who own Roombas, the humble floor-sweeping robots, give them names, he said. One-third take their Roombas on vacation.
At a technology conference last October in San Jose, Calif., Cynthia Breazeal, an MIT robot developer, demonstrated her attempts to build robots that mimic human and social skills. She showed off “Leonardo,” a rabbity creature that reacts appropriately when a person smiles or scowls.
“Robot sidekicks are coming,” Breazeal said. “We already can see the first distant cousins of R2D2,” the sociable little robot in the “Star Wars” movies.
Other MIT researchers have developed an autonomous wheelchair that understands and responds to commands to “go to my room” or “take me to the cafeteria.”
So far, most robots are used primarily in factories, repeatedly performing single tasks. The Robotics Institute of America estimates that more than 186,000 industrial robots are being used in the United States, second only to Japan. It’s estimated that more than a million robots are being used worldwide, with China and India rapidly expanding their investments in robotics.Start Slide Show with PicLens Lite
By David Hambling
April 21, 2009
Stopping the pirates of Somalia hasn’t been easy. But when the navies of the world have repelled or killed the hijackers, it’s often involved three elements: helicopters, drones and trained snipers. The U.S. Army is working on a weapon which combines all three.
It’s called the Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System. It mounts a powerful rifle onto highly stabilized turret, and fixes the package on board a Vigilante unmanned helicopter. I describe the system in this month’s Popular Mechanics.
The system is intended for the urban battlefield — an eye in the sky that can stare down concrete canyons, and blink out targets with extreme precision. Attempting to return fire against the ARSS is liable to be a near-suicidal act: ARSS is described as being able to fire seven to 10 aimed shots per minute, and it’s unlikely to miss.
Recent events off Somalia, however, may have suggested other uses for this technology. Last week’s standoff between pirates and the U.S. Navy in the Indian Ocean ended famously with three sniper shots, as a drone watched overhead. In 2008, French special forces captured six pirates on land after ransom had been paid. “There were four helicopters involved,” The Independent reported at the time. “A sniper [in a Puma helicopter] shot out the motor of the pirates’ four-wheel drive vehicle. A second helicopter [a Gazelle] then landed nearby, allowing the six pirates to be arrested” — without any casualties.
The U.S. Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) uses helicopter-borne snipers to take out drug-running boats. They are accurate enough to knock out engines without harming the crew or damaging fuel tanks. “The driver just threw his hands up,” concludes the description of one such action in Men’s Vogue, after all three engines were disabled with three shots.
And because the Vigilante is smaller, lighter and cheaper than a manned combat helicopter, it can be supplied in greater numbers, and without the need for those elite, highly-trained snipers.
Sniping from a chopper currently takes tons of skill and training. But ARSS is literally point-and-shoot for the operator on the ground, using a videogame-type controller. The software makes all the necessary corrections, and the system should ensure first-round kills at several hundred yards. The secret is in the control system and stabilized turret (on the right in the picture above), which is currently fitted with a powerful RND Manufacturing Edge 2000 rifle specifically designed for sniping work, using the heavyweight .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge.
The stabilized turret could be fitted to a variety of other vehicles — including a a small blimp, or a fixed-wing unmanned plane, like the Predator. Compared to the Predator’s array of Hellfire missiles, the ARSS’ lone gun would be much less likely to hit civilians. It would also give a far deeper magazine: dozens of shots instead of a handful of missiles, and at a cost of around $4 per trigger pull rather than about $100,000 for a Hellfire. But the turret doesn’t need such a big craft to carry it, as the complete turret assembly weighs less than a single Hellfire.
The Army wants to modernize — and Defense Secretary Robert Gates isn’t sure he wants to pay. Among the budget cuts he announced yesterday was a major hit to the Army’s most ambitious new weapons program, Future Combat Systems (FCS). Under Gates’s proposed budget, a set of FCS fighting vehicles that was supposed to provided light-brigade speed with heavy-brigade punch will be axed entirely. And you know what? Maybe that’s okay. The core of what makes FCS futuristic is its ambitious wireless network, which will connect soldiers, surveillance drones and sensors, giving everyone more and better information than ever before.
Author James Vlahos explains how it’s all supposed to work in this article, from our May issue.
Wall-E went to Iraq.
The small robot rolled out of the desert scrub into a village, paused between two houses, and then approached the closer one. His square head swiveled around, unblinking camera eyes surveying the structure. The sound of shuffling boots filled the air as six U.S. Army soldiers rushed in behind him, assault rifles drawn. Reaching the building he’d scoped, they took cover inside. The robot, meanwhile, whirred on tank treads to investigate the second house. The building had no door, and he rolled inside easily. The soldiers followed. Bang, bang! Gunfire erupted, and moments later the Americans emerged unscathed. The two insurgents inside the house weren’t as lucky.
My view of the Showdown at the Baghdad Corral came from atop the roof of the first building, where I stood with two Army colonels and a brigadier general, a cadre of defense-industry contractors, a couple of reporters, and a cameraman from Al Jazeera. For some reason, we were all wearing helmets, even though this wasn’t a live-fire exercise. The shootout had been staged at Adobe Village, an Army training facility at Fort Bliss, Texas, and the robot was a prototype of a reconnaissance ‘bot known as the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle, or SUGV (pronounced “sug-vee”). Transmitting live imagery back to a helmet-mounted display worn by one of the soldiers, the robot had conveyed that the first building was safely empty, while the second contained insurgents who were rigging a bomb. Tipped off, the soldiers were able to execute a successful raid and “kill” the bad guys.
The waist-high SUGV is at the forefront of more than just pretend infantry assaults. It’s one of the first technologies to emerge from a program called Future Combat Systems, the most ambitious Army modernization effort since World War II. The Army traditionally develops weapons in isolation — a new tank here, a helicopter there. But FCS, scheduled for full deployment by 2015, was conceived from the ground up as a unified family: eight armored vehicles, three robotic transports, a suite of battlefield sensors, unmanned aerial and terrestrial surveillance crafts, and a guided missile launcher. Each component boasts better-than-before features (the SUGV, for instance, weighs less than 30 pounds, half as much as the robotic scouts currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan), but stacked spec sheets aren’t the main point. The key innovation is that the pieces will work as a coordinated team linked by a wireless network — interconnection that the Army says will revolutionize the way war is fought.
The FCS vision combines the best of laser-guided munitions, robotics, and Facebook. Mouse clicks steer missiles and drones, computers display the locations of combatants like restaurant icons on a GPS unit, picture messages show insurgent hideouts, and Twitter-like posts provide intelligence updates. Imagine a platoon of 50 soldiers spread out over a few miles, some on foot and some in Humvees, some out in the open and some inside buildings. Each soldier is linked to the other fighters in the area. He or she can receive pictures from a SUGV, intelligence from the command post, and information such as vibrations from tank treads and traces of biological weapons from unattended sensors. The objective is to make soldiers more precise about identifying targets and more lethal once they do; to harness Web-style connectivity to reduce the fog of war.
The goal is unimpeachable. It’s the execution that’s under fire. The cost of FCS has risen at least 45 percent since its inception in 2003, with the Army putting the final tally at $161 billion and an independent review by the Department of Defense estimating up to $234 billion. Either way, FCS, a dog’s breakfast of 896 contractors in 45 states, is the most expensive weapons program in Army history. In March 2008, the Government Accountability Office reported that progress so far is “well short of a program halfway through its development schedule and its budget” and that “only two of FCS’s 44 critical technologies have reached a level of maturity that . . . should have been demonstrated at program start.” The most critical unproven technology is the network itself, which is relying on a system of high-bandwidth radios that is still being developed. Without it, FCS collapses like a house of cards.Start Slide Show with PicLens Lite