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X-47B Gets Two More Years of Tests to Prep Navy for Robot Warplanes

Instead of heading to museums, the U.S. combat drones will resume testing on aircraft carriers

1 min read
X-47B Gets Two More Years of Tests to Prep Navy for Robot Warplanes

Last month, Northrop Grumman's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air thingy (Vehicle or System, take your pick) did a mostly excellent job at autonomously taking off from, and more importantly landing on, an aircraft carrier. Once everything was shown to work, the U.S. Navy was like, "awesome job, now never fly those things again," and the two X-47Bs were slated for permanent museum display. Fortunately for fans of big, expensive, scary-looking flying robots, the Navy has just changed its mind.

The Navy is now planning to deploy the drones to aircraft carriers three more times over the next two years. The first deployment should happen by the end of this year (so, very soon), followed by a second deployment about a year from now, and a final one from late 2014 until early 2015.

From the sound of things, that last deployment is going to be the most exciting one. The X-47B will "fully integrate with a 70-plane carrier air wing for several weeks," to (hopefully) show that robots can seamlessly work with manned aircraft in carrier operations. We'll also get to see the first aerial refueling operation, although we're not nearly as worried about that.

In addition to testing out the robotic aircraft more thoroughly, these deployments will also serve to prepare the aircraft carriers themselves for routine drone operations. And in many ways, that's the biggest hurdle that the X-47B has to fly over: getting humans comfortable with having sophisticated and potentially armed robots flying around on their own.

Via [ WarIsBoring ]

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
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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