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What Else Can We Do With Autonomous Military Vehicles?

Companies that make UGVs for the military look to expand into the civilian sector

2 min read
What Else Can We Do With Autonomous Military Vehicles?

Do you have a robot car yet? Me neither. The military, on the other hand, has a bunch of them. These UGVs (Unmanned Ground Vehicles) are mostly used for hauling gear, sort of like mules used to, back in the day. Lockheed Martin even had one called MULE. It was a nice idea, getting robots to do this, but it's not simple and it's not cheap, and the military has been cutting back. So, the companies involved have been trying to figure out what else they can do with their UGVs.

Many of these UGVs are totally ready to go, in that they've already been deployed overseas for testing with troops. They're not ready to be driving around streets in public, but in supervised, restricted, or otherwise controlled situations, they're safe and capable. 

Companies like Lockheed and John Deere are exploring a range of different potential markets for their UGVs, most of which fall into those familiar "dull, dirty, or dangerous" categories. Things like autonomous security patrols probably won't surprise you, nor will long term and long range border patrols in remote and rugged and generally nasty terrain. But there may be other, less obvious applications for UGVs, including agriculture, mining, and construction. Both Lockheed and John Deere are actively developing applications like these, even as they continue their military contracts. Personally, I can't wait until I can go down to my local hardware store and buy one of these (skip to 1:00 to see why):

Here's another little surprise: National Defense Magazine spoke to Boston Dynamics president Marc Raibert, who said that his company sees many commercial and public safety applications for its robots. Raibert mentioned the Fukushima accident as an example of where robots could help:

“If we had better robots available during the Fukushima accident it may have been easier and quicker to get things under control,” he said.

Um, commercial applications? I'm just going to assume that Boston Dynamics is going to make me us all BigDogs that we can ride.

[ National Defense Magazine ] via [ Robohub ]

Updated 28 June 2013 9:48 p.m.: Edits made to clarify Marc Raibert's comments.

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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