Category Archives: uav

Case for armed robot laws is mounting

Israel’s unmanned armed Guardium vehicle still has a human in the loop, for now.

Human Rights Watch has released a new report that is pretty much self-explanatory: Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots. In it, the advocacy group argues for a ban on fully autonomous, armed machines, in fear that their development will ultimately result in a Terminator-like situation where robots end up killing innocent humans.

The group believes such machines are only a few decades away, according to a statement:

Fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, and major powers, including the United States, have not made a decision to deploy them. But high-tech militaries are developing or have already deployed precursors that illustrate the push toward greater autonomy for machines on the battlefield. The United States is a leader in this technological development. Several other countries – including China, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom – have also been involved. Many experts predict that full autonomy for weapons could be achieved in 20 to 30 years, and some think even sooner.

As per that last part, the group’s estimate is probably way off with full autonomy likely to come much sooner. Armed flying drones have been taking to the skies in Afghanistan and Iraq for the better part of a decade, while Israel is currently using armed ground robots such as the Guardium, likely in its current conflict in Gaza. In each case, there’s a human operator in the loop, but that’s likely to change soon. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on November 21, 2012 in israel, robots, u.s., uav, war


Meet tomorrow’s weapon designer: you

The U.S. military gets its fair share of criticism when it comes to efficiency, what with the million-dollar screwdrivers it tends to buy and so on, but one thing it is pretty good at is changing with the times. Unlike some industries (cough media cough), the military is doing a solid job of adapting to and taking advantage of technological changes.

One example of this is a current project from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that is looking to build better Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. UAVForge is a program that combines social networking, crowd-sourcing and even video games in an effort to jumpstart the field. As the website states:

UAVForge is a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic (SSC Atlantic) collaborative initiative to design, build and manufacture advanced small unmanned air vehicle (UAV) systems. Our goal is to facilitate the exchange of ideas among a loosely connected international community united through common interests and inspired by innovation and creative thought.

The project is taking submissions from the general public until Jan. 20, whereupon voting will begin on who has the best designs, with a $100,000 prize awaiting the winner. This is, of course, a far cry from the good old days, when the Pentagon would simply give Lockheed Martin or Raytheon a couple billion dollars to do it.

Here’s a video of the sort of thing the project is looking for:

The bottom line is, designing tomorrow’s war machines isn’t just for mega-contractors anymore. Grab yourself some CAD software, play some Call of Duty and get cracking!

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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in DARPA, uav, video games


Eyes in the sky get creepier with robot birds

Nearly two years ago, I blogged about how DARPA – the Pentagon’s mad science division – was working on a robotic hummingbird, which would act as a super-small surveillance craft. Well, as Borat would say: Success!

Monrovia, Calif.-based AeroVironment has perfected the tiny unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which uses flapping wings rather than rotor blades or fans to keep aloft. The Nano Hummingbird is equipped with cameras and even outfitted to look like the actual bird.

Check out the newly released promo video, which features some suitably dramatic music:

The Nano Hummingbird isn’t the only robot designed to replicate a bird. Check out the amazing Smartbird from Germany’s Festo. Just about anyone would be hard-pressed to tell one of these from the real thing at a distance.

If you weren’t paranoid about being watched before, now might be a good time to start.

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Posted by on June 9, 2011 in DARPA, robots, uav


The airborne Terminator is coming

It’s a short post today as I spent last night rocking out with the greatest Canadian band of all time – Rush. It was a great show and my arms are a little tired from all the air drumming I did. What can I say, Neil Peart rules!

My pal Kelvin over in the UK has a story in The Globe and Mail that would fit very nicely into Sex, Bombs and Burgers. Military scientists and engineers – sometimes referred to as “boffins” over there, which I love – are working on something called the Taranis, an armed, artificially intelligent UAV named after the Celtic god of thunder. As you can see from the photo, it also looks like something out of Battlestar Galactica. How cool is that?

According to Kelvin’s article:

Taranis could be programmed to fly itself between continents to reach enemy territory. ‘It could then carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activity. … It’s a combat aircraft with weapons so it could strike with precision weapons,’ said Squadron Leader Bruno Wood, the Ministry of Defence spokesman for the Taranis project.

Wood also added that, despite the Taranis being able to pilot itself – unlike other armed UAVs such as the Reaper and Predator, which are remotely controlled – humans would always be involved in any decision to use its weapons. I’m not sure if “always” will really be the case because once you involve a human in any part of the vehicle’s operation, you defeat the purpose of making it automated in the first place. You might as well send up a human pilot in a plane. One expert in the story acknowledges as much and says allowing machines to decide on shooting by themselves may be a decade or so away.

It’ll be interesting to see what sorts of consumer benefits will spin out of this project. BAE, the contractor, has on many occasions put expertise gained from military work toward the larger consumer world, with electric hybrid propulsion systems as just one example.

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Posted by on July 14, 2010 in uav, uk, war


UK, UAVs and iPhones

It’s a grab bag today with a couple pieces of outstanding business to talk about. First of all, I’m pleased to announce that I have a U.K. release date for Sex, Bombs and Burgers. It will be out in bookstores there on Nov. 1, which means it will make the perfect Christmas present for all you folks in the U.K. I can’t see why I wouldn’t go over to do some promotion around the release time, other than perhaps a certain Icelandic volcano getting uppity again. The publisher tells me there’s already some good media interest, so let’s hope it goes as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Secondly, in my lament the other day about working in an armed camp, I talked about how it was possible that aerial drones were being used for G20 surveillance. I promised to try and find out more, and I did – it turns out I was wrong, that UAVs aren’t being used because federal aviation authorities won’t allow them over populated areas. The Ontario Provincial Police are using them in Northern Ontario, but it doesn’t look like they’ll be in cities any time soon. I still wonder if they really are being used secretly, but it sure doesn’t look like it in any official capacity. You can check out my full story on CBC.

Lastly, because I like to wind down the week on a humourous note, I thought I’d share a funny press release I got yesterday. It came from my favourite adult entertainment company, Pink Visual, and it was in relation to the newly launched iPhone 4 (they’re my favourite not because of the content they produce, but because the people who run it are obviously tech nerds with great senses of humour).

If you follow Apple, you’ve probably heard about the problems they’re having with the new iPhone. The iPhone 4’s antenna is actually built into the frame of the device itself, and the company has acknowledged that you can actually interrupt its signal if you hold a certain way.

Never ones to let an easy opportunity pass them by, the Pink Visual folks jumped all over it. According to the press release, the faulty antenna is actually part of Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ plot to eradicate porn from the iPhone:

“Apple did their homework on this one,” said Dave Long, a disgruntled 37 year-old mobile porn user. “Over 85% of the world is right handed and watches mobile porn with their phone in their left hand. Now when my mom is out at the grocery store and I get a hankering to check out a little wireless erotica, I have to set the phone on a surface or switch hands and go all ‘stranger’ on myself. I think maybe Steve Jobs is serious about wanting the iPhone to be ‘porn-free,’ after all.”

The company’s brand manager went on to say that Pink Visual is working on a left-hand optimized mobile website to compensate for the problem.

Ha! You can read the full press release (warning: the link is a little bit naughty) by going here. Have a good weekend!

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Posted by on June 25, 2010 in apple, iphone, Pink Visual, uav, uk


Postcards from Toronto’s war zone

Look up… look waaaay up…

Those words were part of every episode of one of my favourite CBC shows as a kid, The Friendly Giant. “Friendly,” the eponymous giant of the show, used it to guide the viewer up from their ground eye view to his lofty level. Ironically, while at work at the CBC this week, I’ve found myself looking up… waaaay up, not to see Friendly, but to see just how we’re being watched throughout this whole G20 circus.

On Monday, I spent my lunch break in a park near the CBC building in an effort to take in the sunshine while reading a book. Easier said than done – like every nook and cranny of the “green zone” armed camp that’s been erected in downtown Toronto for this summit, the park was crawling with cops. And virtually every one of them, when passing by the bench I was sitting on, gave me the up and down. Obviously, I must look like an anarchist protester and/or terrorist.

If that wasn’t enough to screw up one’s concentration, the constant din of choppers circling overhead sure was. And these weren’t the relatively unnoticeable civilian helicopters, they were the really big and loud military kind.

Walking back from the park, into the fenced-in camp and past the dozens of police, horse-mounted and in riot gear, I briefly understood what it might be like to live in places where civil order is not a given. Far be it from me to even suggest that I can understand what it’s like to live in a Gaza or a Baghdad, but I did get a brief glimpse into the long-term effects such a restrictive set-up can have on a person’s psyche. If anything, all the security has the exact opposite effect of what it’s supposed to do: it’s made me feel very unsafe. I’ve lived in Toronto almost all of my life and I’ve never felt that way before.

I usually like the big events that happen in Toronto, because the benefits are obvious even if the disruptions they cause are annoying. Aside from attracting tourists from all over, cultural events such as Gay Pride and Caribana also serve to highlight just how diverse and tolerant Toronto is – those are actually our best qualities. Even last weekend’s MuchMusic Video Awards, which caused major disruptions downtown (in combination with G20 preparations), had a net positive effect because it showed that we can throw a big entertainment party with the best of ‘em.

But the G20? I don’t see the point. A group of political and business leaders are flown in, we spend a billion dollars of taxpayer money to safeguard them and mess up the city for a month during a relatively rare period of good weather, and for what? Does Toronto somehow seem more “world class” to these leaders? Please – if they don’t already know that Toronto is Canada’s business capital and they don’t already have their Canadian operations here, we probably don’t want them. If the government really wants to encourage foreign business in Canada, maybe it should remove some of the ridiculous protectionist barriers we have up preventing them from doing so. See telecommunications or the book business as examples (fortunately, the Conservatives do seem to be taking action on telecom, at least). And if the G20 leaders really need to meet so they can sort out world problems, why not set them up on a military base, where the high security won’t screw up our otherwise great and peaceful city?

Getting back to Friendly… it’s not just cops and helicopters that are watching us. I’ve been looking up to see if I could spot any robotic drones hovering around, taking pictures. What’s that? Robots? Oh yes. Security officials are tight on the details, but you can bet that police and anti-terrorism forces are using military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in their surveillance of the G20 summit.

The Ontario Provincial Police have been using UAVs since 2003, according to CTV News, although they apparently have not been cleared for use in places where there are large crowds of people. But, according to an OPP officer: “This could be used at any special event for officer safety. It takes a clear picture of places where robots can’t reach without ever having to have an officer be there.”

In the UK, police have the same idea. According to a story earlier this year from The Guardian, police are “planning to use unmanned spy drones, controversially deployed in Afghanistan, for the ‘routine’ monitoring of antisocial motorists, protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance.”

I’m hoping to get further details of how security officials are using UAVs here in Toronto. Hopefully some answers will be forthcoming. Stay tuned…

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Posted by on June 23, 2010 in uav, war


Look up – "They" are looking back at you

I haven’t done a war-related post in a while, so let me try and play some catch up. Over the past week, the earthquake in Haiti has of course dominated the news. The disaster has been covered (and continues to be covered) from just about every angle imaginable, but one that caught my eye was the use of military drones in surveying the damage.

KCRA, a television station in Sacramento, Calif., has a news report on how the Global Hawk, an unmanned aerial vehicle built by military contractor Northrop Grumman, is being used to take aerial imagery of Haiti. I’d embed the video here, but alas, the option is not available – check out the short report by clicking here.

This isn’t that unusual, given that military technology often gets recruited to help in disasters since it’s usually durable, portable and designed to work in similar conditions. (War and disaster, after all, aren’t that dissimilar.) Satellite phones and internet access, for one, are both technologies first used by the military that are now common in disaster relief.

I came across a more surprising use of these sorts of UAVs over the weekend, when – ironically enough – I was watching the season premiere of 24. In the first episode, counter-terrorist agents used a UAV drone to track movements of a suspected terrorist moving around New York City. That got me wondering: is the U.S. government actually monitoring its own citizens with technology originally designed to find Taliban and Al Qaeda agents hiding in caves?

The answer is yes. As an ABC New York affiliate reports, Homeland Security has been using Predator drones to monitor the U.S.-Canadian border since at least the summer. The aircraft is apparently the same as that used in the Middle East, except it has a lower-power engine – and no weapons. So, if UAVs are being used to monitor borders, there’s little reason to believe they aren’t monitoring cities as well, particularly ones as attractive to terrorists as New York. KPRC News in Houston, meanwhile, recently filmed a secret UAV experiment by that city’s police department. Check it out:

The advantage UAVs have over satellite surveillance is clear: there’s no delay in their communications, their reconnaissance directions can finely controlled and they can stay up in the air for long periods of time (some current builds can stay aloft for 15 hours, while DARPA is working on a solar-powered creation that could amazingly stay up for five years). That means it’s only a matter of time before our skies are full of robotic Big-Brother-esque eyes-in-the-sky. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your particular level of paranoia.

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Posted by on January 19, 2010 in robots, terrorism, uav, war


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