When I first got the call that the chief scientist of the Air Force – Dr. Mark T. Maybury – was interested in speaking with me, I was equal parts excited and intimidated.
After some grueling and extensive research (and by that I mean I Googled him), the nervousness increased. I mean this man has a laundry list of credentials in science and technology that are so impressive Tony Stark would give him a high five. Come on, a PhD in Artificial Intelligence? That is the stuff dreams (and often superheroes) are made of, friends.
Don’t let the nice normal scientist look fool you. This man is one radioactive accident away from a superhero suit and a heroic catch phrase.
So it got me thinking. What do I ask that will allow me and my readers to get a glimpse into the real life of the Air Force’s top super scientist?
Naturally I took the most adult and professional route with this.
So if you were a mad scientist, what one thing or device would you create?
Remote controlled robots are finding their way on the battlefields, serving as improvised explosive device (IED) detectors. I would like to start calling them “battlefield droids” (so please feel free to spread this term around). What may seem like insignificant technology could potentially save the lives of the soldiers put in harms way on routine convoy and ground patrols.
Plus everything’s better with robots, right?
Video provided by AFN Afghanistan
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This video shows versions of DARPA and Boston Dynamics robots climbing stairs, walking on a treadmill and doing pushups.
A modified platform resembling these robots is expected to be used as government-funded equipment (GFE) for performers in Tracks B and C of the DARPA Robotics Challenge. The GFE Platform is expected to have two arms, two legs, a torso and a head, and will be physically capable of performing all of the tasks required for the disaster response scenarios scheduled in the Challenge.
However, despite the appearance of the robots in the video, the Challenge is decidedly not exclusive to humanoid robot solutions.
Any designs are welcome provided they are compatible with shared human-robot environments, compatible with human tools, and compatible with human operators so that a human without expertise in robotics can give commands and confidently anticipate the response. (more…)
Do you want two million dollars? Can you build amazing robots? If so, have we got the most awesome contest FOR YOU! No, seriously. This isn’t the premise for a 1980′s SciFi action flick. This is for real, folks.
Hey, haven't I seen you in a video game somewhere? (Artist's concept image courtesy of DARPA)
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is offering millions to the person who creates a robot designed to handle disasters of epic proportion. The kind humans can’t handle, no matter how noble or determined we are. No, not the asteriod-hurling-to-Earth type (although truthfully that would currently fall into the things-we-can’t-handle-no-seriously-Bruce-Willis-isn’t-going-to-save-us category).
All epic movie montages aside, DARPA really is looking for robots that can handle things that are too dangerous for humans, like the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant last year.
This is more than just the work of a machine. This robot has to go above and beyond the call of autonomous duty in order to handle the kind of crisis we’re talking about. As awesome as that sounds, it’s not quite as unprecedented as you might think.
The truth is, the use of robots in serious situations is nothing new.
Admittedly, the initial idea of a robot with a face conjures up memories of every single SciFi robot movie I’ve ever seen. Usually involving humans fleeing in terror as the autonomous voice screams “kill, kill” while shooting rockets out of a gun-arm. Or overly negative and depressed, like Marvin the Paranoid Android. Frankly, I’d take my chances with the later. He’d be a downer, but at least he has no plans for world domination.
Despite my preconceived notions of the robotic overlord race that is sure to enslave (or depress) us all, my experience at the Navy’s new robotics lab was a little less dramatic. What I discovered was not a legion of soldier robots, but a team of highly trained scientists prepared to explain how they’re working toward a goal of integrating robotics into military life.
The brand new Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR), located at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C. is spearheading efforts to combine human interaction with robotic skill and capability. The goal is to take the best of both worlds and find a way to make missions easier and more effective for service members. This means everything from locating IEDs to fighting fires.
So how are they doing that? It all starts in the lab, of course.
We just returned from a demonstration and tour of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory’s Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR, for short) — in layman’s terms, the NRL’s robotics lab. There’s a lot going on there, from realistic climate testing environments to autonomous UAV flight testing, but here’s a taste of something we might see used aboard ships sooner than later.
Even in peacetime, fires represent one of the greatest risks to the U.S. Naval Fleet.
To this end, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), with support from the Office of Naval Research, is conducting research and developing new technologies to enable shoulder-to-shoulder robotic damage control teammates.
Through a combination of speech and visual recognition, the robot is able to identify trusted individuals, in this case, the human fire-fighting teammate.
The human is able to provide situational information to the robot by voice and gestural commands. Here, the human partner is telling Octavia the general location of the fire before she enters the compartment.
Using two infrared cameras, Octavia is able to localize the fire, allowing her to target it with the compressed air/water backpack.
Ongoing work is focused on improving the naturalness of the interactions so that the human partners can interact with the robot as if it were another human teammate. Additional work is focused on recognizing and characterizing the type and behavior of the fire so that proper extinguishing techniques can be used.