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The Military Transportation United States

Rise of the Robot Squadrons 245

Velcroman1 writes 'Taking a cue from the Terminator films, the US Navy is developing unmanned drones that network together and operate in 'swarms.' Predator drones have proven one of the most effective — and most controversial — weapons in the military arsenal. And now, these unmanned aircraft are talking to each other. Until now, each drone was controlled remotely by a single person over a satellite link. A new tech, demoed last week by NAVAIR, adds brains to those drones and allows one person to control a small squadron of them in an intelligent, semiautonomous network.'
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Rise of the Robot Squadrons

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  • by AP31R0N ( 723649 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @02:28PM (#29966286)

    While we're on the subject, let's talk about the difference between drones/UAVs and robots so we use the right words.

    A drone/UAV is controlled remotely by a human. If a UAV is on autopilot flying to the target area, it is function as a robot. With the US military, there is a "man in the loop" for any attack using a UAV. The bomb disposal machines are not robots. They are remote controlled. A land mine would be closer to a robot.

    A robot follows a program and is NOT controlled by a person. An air to air heat seeking missile is a robot. The software tells it what to do.

    An android is a robot in the shape of a human, like the T800.

    Mecha in Robotech and the like... are NOT robots. They are vehicles piloted by people. The transformers are robots that happen to be sapient. Big metal walking thing != robot. Absence of pilot inside != robot.

    The machines in Battle Bots are remote controlled cars with armor and weapons. They are NOT robots. But it would be awesome if they were.

  • by FlyingBishop ( 1293238 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @02:34PM (#29966360)

    We already have this. And they function on more or less the same swarm functions. They scale really easily, since they simply communicate with each other to navigate. If one blows up, no loss, and you've found a bomb.

    It's not quite as elegant as a magic bomb detector, but it's just as effective. I saw them demoed at a CS conference a few years back, and the designer said that they sent them off to Iraq and got back the empty husks (they're basically rolling cylinders with a single 'payload' unit that is just enough for a camera.

  • by geckipede ( 1261408 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @02:34PM (#29966362)
    This is not universally true:,ArmyCommanderSays.aspx []

    There is at least one general who believes that robots should be deployed right now with the ability to fire their own weapons. Quoted from the linked article:

    "There's a resistance saying that armed ground robots are not ready for the battlefield. I'm not of that camp," he told National Defense. That includes the robot autonomously firing the weapon or, in other words, shooting without a human in the decision loop, he said. SWORDS never had that feature, and the idea of armed autonomous robots firing guns on the battlefield remains controversial. But Lynch was steadfast. "I believe we can do automatic target recognition ... to allow that capability. Autonomously," he repeated.

  • You're joking, but I work in R&D for one of the biggest US manufacturers of UAVs, and the DuneII/C&C/WarcraftII/Starcraft paradigm for controlling and commanding "swarms" of UAVs, and for displaying the data they retrieve, is exactly the inspiration we're using for multiple platform systems with one operator. We ultimately envision one pilot commanding tens or even hundreds of Protoss Observers...

    (And for those of you who are FUDding about "skynet" -- 99.9% of the UAVs in the sky are ISR-only, like the Protoss Observer, not weapon platforms. And the ones that do have weapons don't fire at anything without a human issuing at least two orders, and that human is under observation himself. Please stop the FUD. The only functions these craft do autonomously are piloting (i.e., responding to stick commands and short time constant variations in atmospherics) and waypoint-to-waypoint navigation. The rest is done by human pilots and payload operators.)

    And yes, we can't wait for StarcraftII to come out.

  • by megamerican ( 1073936 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @02:47PM (#29966514)

    It's not necessarily up to the military. Congress has blocked funding on a program that could autonomously fire grenades, much like a minefield, except much easier to set up, program and dismantle afterwards. Congress, and thus the people still have the power of the purse to decide whether or not our weapon systems can be autonomous or not.

    There have been cases where our own drones have been shot down by us because they did not return to a safe mode when instructed to. As of now, that could simply mean that they were in an armed state when it shouldn't have been and couldn't change back.

    A co-worker of mine always jokes that we should be adding requirements that state if the system becomes self aware it should be loyal to the US Constitution. I told him that could cause a lot of trouble for politicians in Washington depending on how it interprets the Constitution.

  • by bughunter ( 10093 ) <> on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @02:47PM (#29966516) Journal

    "Turn it off and replace the code" is easy to type, but in practice it is immensely difficult, to the point of impracticality. It's far more likely to just stop working and be a UXO threat... or be salvage for terrorists (if they don't blow an arm off in the process).

    Sibling to parent post actually got it right; a compromised system is more of a hazard than anything else.

  • Out of context (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @03:07PM (#29966734)

    The reason why they are calling these UAVs "swarms" is because they are using Particle Swarm Optimization to determine their flight path and schedule. (The basis for this research was done at my school, Purdue, so I know a lot about it.) The whole 'networking together' idea is not necessarily true either. The UAV's status is reported to a central machine/server/program that constantly reprocesses the incoming data to determine an optimal order of operations (such as blowing this up, looking at this, etc.) The program considers all of the situations of various other drones, in addition to other external data (wind speed, etc) to determine the optimal result.

    Taken out of context, it sounds a lot like terminator type stuff, but it's not really... it's more like optimizing the operations of drones so that they can be controlled by less people.

  • by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @03:15PM (#29966808) Homepage Journal

    No, he meant "sapient".

    My friend's dog is sentient - it senses, is aware of its surroundings, etc.

    It most certainly is NOT sapient - it is not wise.

    Too many SF writers use "sentient" when they mean "sapient".

    You should perhaps look more closely at the very links you included.

  • by theIsovist ( 1348209 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @05:17PM (#29968350)
    You are correct, my statement had nothing to do with his other than to be a bit of a troll and point out that his analogy was poor at best.

    but as long as we're off topic, please note the following pages on land mine statistics- [] [] []

    a couple of key facts:
    2,000 people are involved in landmine accidents every month - one victim every 20 minutes. Around 800 of these will die, the rest will be maimed.
    One deminer is killed and two are injured for every 5,000 mines cleared.

    you can say i'm ignoring what you're saying about well planned and well maintained minefields, but you decided to ignore "shitty" armies in your calculations, and I feel that 24,000 casualties a year at least warrents some consideration.
  • Re:Controversy what? (Score:5, Informative)

    by EQ ( 28372 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @05:29PM (#29968532) Homepage Journal

    They are controversial because they are rather indiscriminate weapons; figures vary wildly but a midrange one would be that they kill about 10 civilians for each target killed.

    Credible cite please. Sounds like a made up statistic to me. FYI the Predators and other UCAVs are simply a weapons delivery platform, nothing more, nothing less. Its the missiles (Hellfire AGM-114) that do the killing -- same as when they are launched from manned aircraft like F-16. They have the same accuracy and blast radius regardless of what launches them. They hit what they are aimed at and affect everyone in the designed-in lethality/damage radius. Also remember that these were originally designed as anti-tank weapons for the cold war -- US Anti-Tank helicopters like the AH-64 and is Air Force counterpart the A-10 anti-armor aircraft were the original platforms, so they may in fact be "overkill". So stop the fallacious argument of blaming the delivery platform and the weapon; its not the weapon you have issues with, its the targeting and proper usage (which is a completely different -- and far more political -- issue).

  • Oblig. xkcd (Score:2, Informative)

    by FallinWithStyle ( 1474217 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @05:39PM (#29968680)
  • by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @05:48PM (#29968852)

    The US didn't have tank superiority since, apart form Soviet armor, Allied armor uniformly sucked a**.

    You're joking, right? The T-34 was based on a rejected American design. Soviet armor was decent at best, and they didn't have enough of it. The US gave thousands of Shermans to the russian around '43.

  • by Rubinstien ( 6077 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @07:36PM (#29970790)

    The dropping of bombs on Japan almost certainly had multiple justifications, beyond impressing anyone. As far as anyone could know at the time, the Japanese were only months away from being able to deploy their own "weapons of mass destruction", in the form of biological weapons, against the United States. The weapons were already developed and had been tested on Korean and Chinese prisoners and civilians ( ), killing as many as 400,000 people in China, and an estimated 580,000 people overall in the course of experiments. The only thing left to build was the weapons delivery platform. That platform had already been designed (the Fugaku, or "Mount Fuji" long-range bomber), but never went into production due to resources being concentrated towards building more fighters after the allies began gaining a foothold in the Pacific theater. Basically, everyone on every side was scrambling to obtain decisive weapons, and whoever got there first was going to use that capability, regardless.

  • by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Wednesday November 04, 2009 @07:44AM (#29976304) Journal

    Former Defense policy advisor to President Obama, Peter Singer does a great [] interview for [] Hungry Beast on autonomous military robotics. Quite an interesting interview. It is a video but it won't start buffering until you hit play.

    He raises a good point about us human doing things like this and then thinking 'maybe that wasn't such a good idea'. So much for Asimov's laws for robotics.

As of next Tuesday, C will be flushed in favor of COBOL. Please update your programs.