You can't reason with them. You can't kill them. They're...
Merciless Robot Soldiers
The South Korean government and Samsung Techwin recently debuted SGR-A1, a weaponized robot that autonomously tracks intruders up to about two and a half miles away with high-resolution and infrared cameras. Anyone who doesn´t give the robot´s voice-recognition system the correct secret code is identified as an enemy to a remote human operator, who directs the ´droid to unleash a warning, rubber bullets, tear gas or live rounds.
WHY, GOD? WHY? South Korea has one of the world´s lowest birth rates and shares a border with one of the most feared military dictatorships. The government is pouring millions of dollars into the development of guard robots to ease manpower shortages along borders, coasts and terrorism targets, and expects the robot to enter service after 2008.
FEAR FACTOR Foster-Miller, the company that created the first weaponized robots-the Iraq-bound Swords-has heard all the safety concerns. "The U.S. was adamant that we absolutely prove beyond any doubt that [Swords] cannot fire on its own," says vice president Robert Quinn. Samsung insists that it´s taken equal precautions: A person must engage a key before hitting SGR-A1´s "fire" button, and the operator can designate no-fire zones. ("The exact nature of the safety system is classified," says collaborator Hanseok Ko of Korea University, "but its goal is to prevent accidents.") Still, soldiers making life-or-death judgments through a robotic proxy is undeniably disturbing.
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.