Category Archives: war

Tiny robots could fly around no-kill rules

robo-flyA pair of intriguing-and-potentially-linked robot stories made the news this week, with the first being a United Nations report calling on a moratorium for automated killing machines. The report for the UN Human Rights Commission suggests a worldwide ban on the production, assembly, testing and deployment of fully or semi-autonomous weapons until rules can be developed to govern their use.

With United States, Britain, Israel, South Korea and Japan already having such killer robots, the clock is ticking. Removing humans from the decision to institute killing, the report says, could lead to an increase of it.

“Decisions over life and death in armed conflict may require compassion and intuition. Humans — while they are fallible — at least might possess these qualities, whereas robots definitely do not,” it says. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on May 3, 2013 in robots, war, weapons


Robots will identify targets better than humans

terminatorA couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the case for laws governing armed robots is growing. The post was in response to a report issued by Human Rights Watch, which advocated for an outright ban on autonomous armed machines before they become a reality.

I argued that an outright ban was impractical and perhaps undesirable, with different countries having different needs. Some very much want to take human soldiers out of harm’s way while others might be looking at armed robots as a way of evening the odds against vastly bigger enemies.

One of the things that stood out for me in regards to the report were the claims that robots won’t be able to differentiate between an armed soldier and an innocent girl holding an ice cream cone. I suggested that the technology to do exactly that is developing quickly, so it won’t be long before it’s actually put to use.

A few commentators over at the Lawfare blog, however, took it a step further by suggesting that not only will robots be able to identify hostile targets over innocents, they’ll actually do it better than humans. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on December 13, 2012 in robots, war


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


Israel, war technology and the future of a world

If the Middle East were peaceful, would we have Kinect?

A few months ago, the Centre for Israeli and Jewish Affairs here in Toronto contacted me to ask if I would be interested in being part of a journalist delegation to Israel, to tour the country’s technology sector. I’ve had my eye on Israel for several years now, since working on Sex, Bombs and Burgers and learning that much of the country’s economic success over the past few decades has been the result of a meshing between technology and the military. So of course, I agreed.

A group of us are spending this week visiting tech schools, organizations, entrepreneurs and companies around Israel, from the research and development labs of large multinationals such as Intel and Motorola to smaller startups such as Mobli and Conduit. I’ll be sure to write up some of my experiences, this week if I have the time, or next week at the latest.

The numbers on Israel’s technology sector are impressive. Israel has more venture capital investments per capita than any nation on earth, including the United States, and boasts the most non-U.S. companies listed on the Nasdaq after China. It’s ranked fourth in the world in scientific activity, in terms of scientific publications per million citizens, and has some of the highest levels of R&D investment globally. Indeed, Intel and Microsoft opened their first non-U.S. R&D centres in the country.

On the military side, Israel is third in the world in terms of per capita spending, behind only the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. Looking to future tech, it is the second biggest spender on military robots, such as unmanned aerial and ground robots, after the United States. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on October 15, 2012 in israel, war


Military robots about to go fully robotic

While the past decade has seen the proliferation of semi-autonomous military robots such as the Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle and the PackBot bomb disposer, there’s always been a human in the loop. That’s about to change, as military robots are about to take their next big step – into full autonomy.

Check out the video below of the Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate, or GUSS, being developed by TORC Robotics of Blacksburg, Va. GUSS can be remotely piloted by a human, but it can also be programmed to navigate autonomously to waypoints or even to follow other vehicles or individuals. The vehicle is intended to act as a load-carrying mule, or as a sort of evac medic (although if it’s going to be used that way, the marines may want to remove the gas tanks hanging off its side in the video):

Stars and Stripes has a full story on this impending switch, which will inevitably have an effect on the larger consumer world. Just as the Parrot AR drone toy followed similar military robots by only a few years, so too will GUSS and its ilk translate into the real world.

Google, which is working on fully automated cars, believes such vehicles will be commonplace within the decade. While such a premise will inevitably cue the raft of Terminator apocalypse comments, I for one welcome the chance to ditch my own car and order one up to my door via smartphone whenever I need it.

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Posted by on August 14, 2012 in army, artificial intelligence, robots, war


Robot legs give paraplegics new hope

It’s not often I get choked up watching a piece of technology being demonstrated, but check out this video of paraplegics testing out a robotic exoskeleton from California-based Ekso Bionics:

Ekso has opened a rehabilitation centre in Germany to try its robotic exoskeleton out on a larger scale. As evidenced by the video and recent reports from test patients, the gear is a big hit (here’s a photo gallery). It’s still pricey – about $150,000 – but the company hopes to get it down to about half that.

The technology, long-time readers may remember, comes from the military. Contractors including Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have for years been working on exoskeletons that can help soldiers carry big loads.

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Posted by on July 4, 2012 in health, robots, war


Air Force cancels iPad purchase

And just when we thought the Cold War was over…

The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command has cancelled its purchase order for 2,861 iPad 2 tablets, apparently because the devices were to come preloaded with Russian-made software, according to government news website Nextgov.

The military branch was looking to outfit pilots with the tablets, thereby replacing heavy paper flight manuals, but nixed the plan – at least temporarily – after the website inquired about the inclusion of GoodReader, which is a PDF reader made by Moscow-based Good.iWare.

The Air Force didn’t comment on the cancellation but Michael McCarthy, the Army’s smartphone project director, previously told the website that “he would not use software developed in Russia because he would not want to expose end users to potential risk.”

It’s likely that simply being based in Russia is enough to get a company onto the Pentagon’s cautious list, but Good.iWare doesn’t seem to be doing much to help its cause. Contact information and further details on the company are sparse to non-existent on its website. That’s too bad, really, because GoodReader is generally a well-regarded app.

The purchase cancellation is likely to be temporary as the benefits for pilots to use iPads are becoming well known. Commercial pilots who are already using them have found that the devices can easily replace 20 kilograms worth of paper manuals, which ultimately add up to fuel savings as well. (As an interesting aside, U.S. pilots are now allowed to use iPads during takeoff and landing, yet passengers still aren’t able to.)

Air Force pilots will almost certainly be using iPads just as soon as a non-Russian-made PDF reader is decided on. Let the lobbying by app makers begin.


Posted by on February 23, 2012 in apple, ipad, war


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