Robots in the Desert

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, but I’ll forgive myself as I’m sure no one is reading.

This morning I stumbled across a wonderful little article about how robotic land vehicles are being used to patrol the border between Israel and Gaza.  These highly sophisticated machines are, of course, being used by the Israeli armed forces and are operated in much the same way as American forces utilize UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles.  Basically, a pilot controls the machine remotely, in what could be a described as a very real video game.  And, speaking of, the Gaurdium looks straight out of Black Ops II.

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This photo is from the manufacturers website.  The Gaurdium is a mean little thing isn’t it?  Is it just my imagination, or does it look slightly animate?

Slightly animate might be a good way to describe the Gaurdium.  Not only can it be controlled remotely by a pilot, it is also capable of operating autonomously, as any self-respecting robot should.

The Israeli Defense Force blog says the Gaurdium is an “autonomous observation and target interception system” capable of carrying 300 kg payloads (including lethal and non-lethal weapons).  The Gaurdium can “run patrol on predetermined routes without human intervention.”  And what’s more, the manufacturer’s website says the Gaurdium is capable of “autonomous mission execution” and “real-time, self-ruling, obstacle’s detection and avoidance.”  Whether this thing can shoot without being told to do so by a pilot, I can’t say for sure.  But I certainly hope it can’t.

In the past decade, the modern battlefield was reshaped by the introduction of the UAV.  As for the coming decade, the Gaurdium may represent the first wave of autonomous/semi-autonomous robots intended for ground warfare.  The video below is an example of a DARPA robot being developed with the United States Marine Corps.  While there are no guns strapped on it yet, I imagine it’s only a matter of time.

It’s nice to imagine a world where military equipment like the Gaurdium would not be needed.  And, while the recent announcement of a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza gives me at least some hope that our planet isn’t about to be spiked into a third world war, the race to develop more sophistacated and destructive weapons will never end.  Let’s just hope the powers that be steer clear from designs like this one:

The Dragon has Landed

The age of private space enterprise has begun.  Less than a century ago, rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard launched the first liquid fueled rocket.  Yesterday, SpaceX  delivered a space capsule full of supplies to the International Space Station — the first private company to do so.  Here’s a shot of the Dragon capsule joined with the space station.

It’s a beautiful sight, a glimpse into the future.  This is how space will be tamed.  Since the dawn of the space age, space exploration and development has been the sole domain of nation states.  But with the retirement of the space shuttle, the US no longer has a way to get it’s people into space.  Our astronauts are hitching rides on Russian Soyuz capsules.

To fill this vacuum, the US has decided to give private enterprise a shot.  With every paycheck SpaceX gets for launching cargo to the space station — and eventually for ferrying astronauts — it’s one step closer to making space faring a profitable business.

Thankfully, Elon Musk, the man behind SpaceX, wants to do more with his company than make a few bucks delivering clothes and water to scientists in low Earth orbit.  Musk, Sir Richard Branson and the other players in this new field of private space faring have their sights set on much bigger things.  The science fiction that they grew up enjoying is something that they believe they can realize.  I believe they can too.  Musk can be very convincing.