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Today’s Note: Does Avatar Make a Better Movie Plot than Battle Plan?

February 20, 2012

In a recent ExtremeTech.com post, author Sebastian Anthony explains that the United States military is trying to develop technology, reminiscent of the movie “Avatar,” that will allow a soldier to remotely control a fighting machine. In “DARPA reveals Avatar program, robot soldiers incoming” Anthony warms up by telling us:

DARPA, the bleeding-edge research wing of the United States Department of Defense, has revealed that it will spend millions of dollars on a project called “Avatar.” If you’ve seen the movie of the same name — the highest-grossing movie of all time — let me put your mind at rest: DARPA isn’t looking to genetically engineer blue-skinned aliens that humans can control; no, they’re developing robots.

[all the italics are added by me, to all quotes from the article]

DARPA is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. They basically cook up technology projects for the U.S. Military. For example, DARPA (then called ARPA) cooked up a transcontinental computer network called ARAPNET. Yes, I know you know that eventually became what we call “the internet” today. So, DARPA is not a slouch when it comes to hatching technologies; still these kinds of bleeding edge projects generate a lot of failures to go with the spectacular breakthroughs.

With that in mind, it’s hard to know exactly how to interpret the following description of DARPA’s project charter, here: “In the words of DARPA itself, the Avatar program will work on ‘interfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bipedal machine and allow it to act as the soldier’s surrogate.’ In other words, DARPA wants to develop the walking equivalent of an unarmed aerial vehicle; a bipedal robot drone where the controlling soldier is hundreds or thousands of miles away from war front.

You have to admit, it sounds pretty cool. Anthony goes on to note that “Really, with this $7 million investment into the Avatar program, DARPA has merely confirmed what we’ve speculated all along: robot soldiers are coming. ” He also reminds us of a post robotic breakthrough, Petman: “Remember Petman, the walking, kneeling, push-upping bipedal robot? Created by Boston Dynamics, the same company behind AlphaDog, Petman was advertised as a tool for testing chemical protection clothing — but really, it didn’t take a genius to imagine a weaponized version.

The article also contains an embedded video of Petman. It’s an interesting, if fairly simple, article, and a very quick read. The article does have some interesting links that I did not preserve in the quotes. I recommend the article for a brief look.

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One Comment
  1. TaxCoach permalink

    This is dangerous. Basically, we could see robots fighting robots as The Third World War. The technology, if successful, would allow a dictator to fight a more efficient war and would cost more for the environment. I don’t think government should fund this kind of projects.

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