RoboCops Now Guarding South Korean Prisons

As if you needed any more reasons not to end up in a South Korean prison, they now have scary looking robot guards

1 min read
RoboCops Now Guarding South Korean Prisons

The next time you find yourself in a South Korean prison (and don't worry, it happens to the best of us), this not especially friendly looking robot is going to be either your new best buddy or your new worst enemy. But probably the latter.

Sinister, yeah?

The thing I'm not sure about here is just how complicated this robot looks relative to what it's actually capable of doing. It's huge and presumably very expensive, but aside from a microphone, a camera, some flashing lights, an alarm, and what looks to be an off-the-shelf Kinect sensor, it doesn't seem to really be able to do much. Like, you sort of get the feeling that you could do 90 percent of what this robot does with a Rovio or some other telepresence platform.

The sophisticated part might be the software, which looks to be able to analyze behavior and make decisions as to when to alert a human operator that something is up. This is handy, but again, you don't necessarily need something so gigantic and unwieldy to send audio and video back to a computer somewhere that can do the same kinds of things. 

The next step is, apparently, a robot that "conducts body searches," which strikes me as an application that could be particularly unpleasant for the end user. But that might be the whole idea, I suppose: how likely are you to try and sneak contraband into a prison if you encounter a robot snapping a latex glove over its steely, probe-like fingers?

[ Reuters ] via [ PC World ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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