The threat of autonomous killer robots is very real and we have to stop them before it's too late. Such is the theme of many a sci-fi film, but it’s now also the official position of Human Rights Watch, which today published a 50-page report titled “Losing Humanity” that calls for an international treaty banning fully autonomous weapons technology from the battlefield. That makes perfect sense, though HRW is taking a rather straightforward stance toward technology and terminology that is anything but.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are (ostensibly) winding down and military budgets are facing the axe on the home front, but that’s not stopping contractors from building bigger and badder combat-ready robots. Today in badass autonomous military hardware: Mesa Robotics’ Acer, a 4,500-pound mine-clearing, bulldozing, drone-launching, ordnance disposing, pack-muling mini-tank.
The German automaker debuted a new “Temporary Autopilot” (TAP) program that can control the car semi-automatically at speeds up to 80 mph. It combines existing driver-assist functions found in many cars nowadays, like adaptive cruise control and side monitoring for safer lane-changing, with a radar system, laser scanner and ultrasonic sensors.
Bats — you know we love ‘em — have a remarkable ability to turn, swirl and dive on a dime while in mid-flight, dodging obstacles and grabbing food from the air. Engineers would like to give robots and autonomous vehicles this ability, and they’re turning to bat ears for inspiration.
A team of Italian engineers is gearing up for a high-tech road rally that should impress even the outside-the-box dreamers over at DARPA: an 8,000-mile journey from Italy to China, with nobody behind the wheel. The three-month convoy will be the longest test of driverless vehicles ever conducted, taking the cars through twisting mountain passes, Moscow traffic, and harsh Siberian weather before ending up in the sprawling roadways of Shanghai in October.
UPenn's quadcopters are learning new tricks. We were impressed last month when video emerged of the autonomous 'copters ducking through very tight spaces with startling agility. Now, the GRASP Lab's tiny aircraft have learned to work in teams to lift heavy payloads with surprising grace.
Technology developed by Virginia Tech for DARPA's Urban Challengein 2006 and 2007 is heading off to war, joining the U.S. Marines and troops from 13 other nations at in Hawaii for the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) war games next month. Aiding platoons of marines as they participate in the Naval Laboratory's experimentation that accompanes RIMPAC, VT's Ground Unmanned Support Surrogates (GUSS) will autonomously help grunts haul supplies, transport wounded, and carry out other platoon support tasks.
Racing autonomous cars through the desert is one thing. Racing a driver-less car up the steep, winding paths of the Rocky Mountains at race speeds is quite another, but that’s the goal a team of Stanford graduate students has set for itself, outfitting an Audi TTS named “Shelly” to navigate the Pikes Peak race course wit no one behind the wheel.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.