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The Inside Story of the Armed Robot Pullout Rumor

Zonk posted more than 5 years ago | from the see-how-these-things-get-started dept.

Robotics 105

An anonymous reader writes "It appears that the initial rumor of the SWORDS robots being pulled out of Iraq — and its subsequent correction — were just that: sensationalizing in the blogosphere. Popular Mechanics has a lengthy update to its original scoop, digging into the sketchy responses from defense contractors when pressed about the bot's actual duties in battle. From the article: 'Although others have used our story to generate a false online rumor about these armed UGVs, the nature of those "technical issues" that Gotvald mentioned in his statement, and that Qinetiq and Foster-Miller have yet to address directly, remains a mystery. Until someone can explain why SWORDS lost its funding, and what exactly it is — and isn't — being used for in Iraq, the rumors are likely to continue. If this is the dawn of the era of robotic infantry, things are off to a decidedly rocky start.""

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105 comments

First Steps (3, Insightful)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 5 years ago | (#23097646)

Whatever steps this robot is taking are baby steps.

It's too easy to run about in circles with hands in the air, exclaiming 'Fail! Fail!' But this is the infancy. Regarding the maturity of robotic infantry, I have no doubt in my mind the worst fears will fall short of how some dispicable leaders will deplouy such devices.

Re:First Steps (1)

genericpoweruser (1223032) | more than 5 years ago | (#23097726)

On the other hand, if I were being terrorized by a robot I wouldn't be worried about the its family when I blew it away. Robotic infantry is probably not so bad, but I imagine the landscape of warfare will be changed once again.

Re:First Steps (1)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098088)

On the other hand, if I were being terrorized by a robot I(t) wouldn't be worried about (my) family when I(t) blew (me) away.

The real question is (1)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098158)

Has one of them ever killed someone ?

Re:The real question is (1)

MadnessASAP (1052274) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098574)

Yes, at least I know of one example (can't remember the name though) where an armed UAV blew away one of Al-Quedas big wigs.

Re:The real question is (1)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098632)

I've remember that. How about someone killed by one of these ground based robots in combat ? (Aside from developments accidents - wasn't there one of those recently ? Although not with a mobile robot though I think...)

Are you a software engineer? (2, Funny)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 5 years ago | (#23097782)

"It's OK for the first bridge to fall down, we can always fix it with a service pack" or "well Beta bridges always fall down": that's not something you hear a civil engineer say.

Same with a machine waving around a deadly weapon.

Software already "waving around" weapons (4, Insightful)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 5 years ago | (#23097952)

Software is already waving around, or more accurately flying around, weapons. Today, many a pilot does not directly manipulate control surfaces to maneuver or activate a solenoid (or whatever, you get the idea) to drop a bomb. The pilot enters inputs into a computer requesting particular actions and the computer decides if and how to implement those requests, i.e. maneuver or drop bomb.

The robots we are discussing here are somewhat comparable to modern combat aircraft. A person is making the decisions regarding maneuver and firing. One major difference is that the robot is remotely operated, unlike most aircraft.

Re:Software already "waving around" weapons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23098266)

And yet they do an awful job as well.. wasn't it a Moore movie about how in the first day of the shock and awe campaign not one of the tomahawks hit on target?

Re:Software already "waving around" weapons (1)

MadnessASAP (1052274) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098628)

Wasn't that the point? I thought the S&A campaign was meant to scare the Iraqis shitless with loud explosions in the air without actually killing anyone?

Re:Software already "waving around" weapons (1)

SoupIsGoodFood_42 (521389) | more than 5 years ago | (#23099764)

Yeah, but obviously, they still had targets. Perhaps there weren't targets in the traditional sense, but they aren't going to fire randomly into a city....one would hope.

Re:Software already "waving around" weapons (1)

Glock27 (446276) | more than 5 years ago | (#23106566)

Big mistake: believing anything in a Micheal Moore movie without serious fact checking.

The Tomahawks, JDAMs, and laser guided bombs all work pretty much as advertised. Tomahawk TERCOM and GPS navigation is very precise.

As a matter of fact, Tomahawks are one of the first fully autonomous "robotic" vehicles to have attack capability. There's a variation that can be programmed to attack three separate geographically diverse targets with bomblets, then do a terminal KE attack against a final target, all without human intervention.

So, any concern over autonomous robots attacking humans is a bit late, not to mention the nuke-carrying variety. ;-)

Re:Software already "waving around" weapons (1, Insightful)

MadnessASAP (1052274) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098616)

A critical distinction though is that after you enter the target into the planes computer you still need to hold the weapon release("pickle" switch) to allow the computer to drop the bomb. The computer may make the choice of exactly when to drop the bomb but a human still has complete control over the computer at the the time. These new robots take that human right out of the equation and are meant to operate without any human guidance.

Re:Software already "waving around" weapons (4, Informative)

Enigma2175 (179646) | more than 5 years ago | (#23099904)

A critical distinction though is that after you enter the target into the planes computer you still need to hold the weapon release("pickle" switch) to allow the computer to drop the bomb. The computer may make the choice of exactly when to drop the bomb but a human still has complete control over the computer at the the time. These new robots take that human right out of the equation and are meant to operate without any human guidance.
Did you even RTFA? Here, let me quote part of it for you:

Every UGV maker we've spoken to has stressed the importance of having a "man in the loop" when dealing with armed robots. As Predator drones have proven, an unmanned vehicle is capable of friendly fire, but the decision to engage will always be made by a human operator.

Doesn't sound like they are "meant to operate without any human guidance" to me.

Re:Software already "waving around" weapons (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098674)

"Software is already waving around, or more accurately flying around, weapons."

In the case of the F-16, since (maiden flight) 1974.

Re:Software already "waving around" weapons (2, Insightful)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 5 years ago | (#23100010)

The pilot enters inputs into a computer requesting particular actions and the computer decides if and how to implement those requests, i.e. maneuver or drop bomb.
Ah, no.

The computer decides HOW. The only time when it even comes close to "if" is if there's a fail-safe built in to the system -- and that's not so much deciding now to as being unable to figure out how.

And if you think the Pilots in cockpits and controlling UAVs don't have to enter a specific command each and every time a weapon is fired, I've got a bridge to sell you

Re:Software already "waving around" weapons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23100612)

Wow! You're so wise, it seems hard to believe you missed the part of the article that says, "Every UGV maker we've spoken to has stressed the importance of having a 'man in the loop' when dealing with armed robots. As Predator drones have proven, an unmanned vehicle is capable of friendly fire, but the decision to engage will always be made by a human operator."

Re:Software already "waving around" weapons (1)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 5 years ago | (#23100716)

"The pilot enters inputs into a computer requesting particular actions and the computer decides if and how to implement those requests, i.e. maneuver or drop bomb."

Ah, no. The computer decides HOW. The only time when it even comes close to "if" is if there's a fail-safe built in to the system -- and that's not so much deciding now to as being unable to figure out how.


I pulled an Obama, I poorly worded the above. I'm not saying you ask for a bomb and it decides to maneuver. I am saying you as for a maneuver and it decides if to perform the maneuver as requested (via stick and rudder), you ask for a bomb and it decides whether to drop. For example the flight control computer can "override" a pilot. If a maneuver is too hard it may moderate it, i.e. turn a command that would have resulted in a 10G maneuver into an 8G maneuver. You request one particular control surface to move and the computer decides to move different surfaces to perform the equivalent maneuver (as you said "figure out how"). Regarding dropping bombs, if the landing and arresting gear is down maybe it won't drop the bomb.

And if you think the Pilots in cockpits and controlling UAVs don't have to enter a specific command each and every time a weapon is fired, I've got a bridge to sell you

That was my point. :-)

Re:First Steps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23098752)

Chances are from my experience, if the government is changing a project, then chances are it was working perfectly

Out of all the places to pull funding... (1)

billy901 (1158761) | more than 5 years ago | (#23097666)

It seems that our military budget is a little high... When the US makes bombs and other weapons for this war, many of which will not be used, why do they pull this? These robots prevent soldier from being killed. The support for the war is at an all time low, I think it would be better for the Bush administration to pull it. So far, however, Obama is leading and he will likely pull this and we will be able to put this expanded military budget into the wretched economy. Overall, I think that pulling the robot program was not a wise idea.

Obligatory conspiracy theory (2, Interesting)

Ethan Allison (904983) | more than 5 years ago | (#23097708)

Maybe the story is just a way for Qinetiq and Foster-Miller to get more attention and attract more investors to a previously less-known-about company?

Re:Obligatory conspiracy theory (1)

xSauronx (608805) | more than 5 years ago | (#23097982)

or maybe the military wants us to *think* that the robots are going out of service, while they intend to do some more secretive work, testing or upgrades on them.

Re:Obligatory conspiracy theory (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23098228)

Or maybe your mom sucks more nigger dicks in a day than all the hookers in Harlem.

Armed Robot Pullout (4, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 5 years ago | (#23097754)

Oh my, the title of this story leaves itself very, very open.

Did it pull out in time? When can we expect the baby robots, do we finally have self replicating machines? Etc.

Of course (2, Interesting)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 5 years ago | (#23097818)

This is not the first time the American robotic army has attacked its own troops... [gizmodo.com]

Re:Of course (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23097898)

Whois Record for Mypantystore.com

Registrant:
      William Powell
      1814 Yarnall Road
      Pottstown, Pennsylvania 19464
      United States

I, for one... (1)

radimvice (762083) | more than 5 years ago | (#23097892)

welcome our new robot overlords...err, wait...or not...truth be damned, could someone please just tell the Blogonet to come to a hasty consensus and make up my feeble mind already?

They have robots firing from the air (2, Insightful)

MichaelCrawford (610140) | more than 5 years ago | (#23097930)

I've read several reports of those pilotless drones firing from the air. I expect they're under remote control though.

There's something that really bothers me about this robotic warfare business - it doesn't seem fair to fight a war that doesn't put your troops at risk. My concern is that if the US were able to wage war with no risk of life at all, it might become quite a bit more despotic to other countries.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (3, Insightful)

deft (253558) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098006)

As opposed to how the actual despots in the regions of the world experiencing ethnic cleansing and warlords would act?

The US uses smart bombs designed to NOT kill innocent people, to save the civillian lives. it avoids churches (who am i kidding, mosques), etc. back in the day Hannibal would just start in the north and kill or enslave everyone till he hit the water in the south. Much closer but still back int he day, it was carpet bombing back to the stone age, sorry if we hit the daycare.

No other country has gone to such legth to try and only combat the enemy. unfortunately, the enemy knows that and blends in, uses civilians as sheilds, and pretends to be them, hides in mosques, etc.

Do you really think that swords is going to be fullt autonomous, like there isnt going to be a pilot to make sure. Of course there will be remote control to overide. While things like picking up a body or tracking may be automated, firing will have some sort of control, as do predators. Flight from gps point to gps point is automated, but theres a guy targetting and ultimately making the kill call.

In the end, I dont think we can call these "robots" in the sci-fi typical sense... they are a hybrid between remote control vehicle/aircraft and robot.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (4, Interesting)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098200)

back in the day Hannibal would just start in the north and kill or enslave everyone till he hit the water in the south

FWIW that was Roman propaganda. Hannibal was pretty good at forming alliances with tribes/cities that were not the most enthusiastic of Roman supporters. The preceding should not be interpreted to suggest that Hannibal was an easy going guy, for example he had an "interesting" way of using Roman prisoners to motivate his troops. He once took two prisoners (soldiers) and forced them to fight to the death. After the fight the winner was brutally and publicly tortured to death. The lesson to his own troops, it is better to die in battle than to be at the mercy of your enemy.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (5, Informative)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098254)

The US uses smart bombs designed to NOT kill innocent people, to save the civillian lives. it avoids churches (who am i kidding, mosques), etc. back in the day Hannibal would just start in the north and kill or enslave everyone till he hit the water in the south. Much closer but still back int he day, it was carpet bombing back to the stone age, sorry if we hit the daycare.

Smart bombs are a tiny, tiny fraction of ordinance dropped -- they just kept replaying the footage of the laser guided bomb dropping down a chimney to make you think all war we wage is nice and tidy like that. The vast majority are traditional bombs not all that much more accurate than the ones dropped in WWII -- which means, like in WWII, you need to drop a lot of them to make sure you hit anything, and they surely are going to cause "collateral damage". We've hit plenty of daycares in both Gulf Wars, and most of the time there isn't so much as a "sorry". Between that, and the "we don't do body counts" (meaning we don't measure our collateral damage), I have a hard time believing that the U.S. military really cares that much about saving innocents.

Of course I'm not saying the U.S. is like the Mongol hordes or anything, raping and pillaging wantonly. Then again in the global political environment, and the realities of Iraq, we really couldn't be either. We're not trying to literally conquer Iraq by beating the whole country into submission, so if we started acting like it, well, two things would happen: 1) the insurgency in Iraq would explode to levels orders of magnitude beyond what we've seen and 2) our few remaining allies would bail on us, and we would probably start to figure out in short order why our trade deficit is a bad thing.

We're doing our best, and we're a lot better than plenty of countries you could name, but lets not pretend that we're actually doing all that well. It's only by admitting our failings that we can keep getting better; if we just assume we're the best and that's that, we will surely backslide (and I think this has very much happened).

Do you really think that swords is going to be fullt autonomous, like there isnt going to be a pilot to make sure. Of course there will be remote control to overide.

Yeah I was very suspicious when I heard the story, because everything I'd heard was that the military was 100% committed to always having a human decision maker in the firing loop for these robots. And I think anyone who has watched Terminator, War Games, Matrix, or Short Circuit for that matter would agree that is a wise decision.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (2, Informative)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 5 years ago | (#23100098)

Smart bombs are a tiny, tiny fraction of ordinance dropped -- they just kept replaying the footage of the laser guided bomb dropping down a chimney to make you think all war we wage is nice and tidy like that. The vast majority are traditional bombs
Sorry, your information is out of date.

Concurrent to the invasion of Iraq the US Air Force started fitting JDAMs to its extant stockpile of munitions -- a small mass-produced pod attached to an extant weapon that turns a dumb bomb into a smart bomb.

Last number I heard, the dumb/smart bomb ratio was at 50/50 and rising.

I have a hard time believing that the U.S. military really cares that much about saving innocents.
They don't so much care about saving innocents, as they care about not making life difficult for themselves. And, in most places they operate, that means not hitting a church or blowing up an innocent without either advance warning or a clear intention on doing so.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#23100694)

Last number I heard, the dumb/smart bomb ratio was at 50/50 and rising.

Huh, okay, I guess I'll have to check out more recent info.

They don't so much care about saving innocents, as they care about not making life difficult for themselves. And, in most places they operate, that means not hitting a church or blowing up an innocent without either advance warning or a clear intention on doing so.

Yes, that's a very good way of putting it.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

afedaken (263115) | more than 5 years ago | (#23105710)

Last number I heard, the dumb/smart bomb ratio was at 50/50 and rising.
Correct. As we USE more and more of the conventional ordinance, and replace it with JDAM/Smart ordinance, of course the ratio will go up. :-(

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

nude-fox (981081) | more than 5 years ago | (#23101708)

I'm not saying the U.S. is like the Mongol hordes or anything, raping and pillaging wantonly
but we can be if we try real hard

Re:They have robots firing from the air (2, Informative)

bagsc (254194) | more than 5 years ago | (#23101800)

"Smart bombs are a tiny, tiny fraction of ordinance dropped -- they just kept replaying the footage of the laser guided bomb dropping down a chimney to make you think all war we wage is nice and tidy like that."

1991 called - they want their facts back.

2002: 60% of munitions in Afghanistan were "smart"
-DOD
2003: Operation Iraqi Freedom - "Smart bombs like the JDAM have comprised 80 percent of the munitions used during this operation." USAF

Mongols are nice people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23101832)

Corvid: Dont bash the Mongols, During their time they were the good guys. They seldom engaged in systematic raping and pillaging except for "major cities" which they completely plundered if they were opposed just to make sure it didnÂt turn on them when they left.
Rapes did happen but was strongly looked down upon by the laws the mongols laid down on all their taken territories. "Taking" a wife on the other hand was considered fair game but since the mongols were generally rich and their women handled all the wealth when the men were away it was mostly an easy life... Must have sucked in the beginning though.

As a side note about Henry the holy who to demoralise an opposing city threw kids from outlying farms at the city walls with his catalpults and still was considered a good guy.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098916)

The US uses smart bombs designed to NOT kill innocent people, to save the civillian lives

And then one gets used to go down an air shaft into a bomb shelter to deliberately kill a lot of civilians and then a press release proudly stating this comes out. It comes down to the morality of those that devise the plans and give the orders and how clueless they are about how their allies will react. A single bomb used on a shelter in an attempt to kill Saddams relatives in the earlier Gulf War and the gloating about the civilian casualties lost allies and marked the US as hypocritical and untrustworthy in war.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (3, Insightful)

Perf (14203) | more than 5 years ago | (#23099386)

Geneva Conventions say that if army 1 uses civilians, hospitals, schools, etc. as a shield and fires on Army 2. Army 2 can fire back in self defense and any civilian casualties are the responsibility of Army 1.

During the Korean War, the North Korean soldiers would often hide in a group of refugees and open fire at a U.N. checkpoint. When the U.N. soldiers fired back in self defense, the propaganda corp would have a field day.

BTW, what is Osama binLaden's serial number? And what is the regulation uniform for his soldiers? think it's not important? Check the Geneva Conventions regarding such matters. (Hint - without these, the combatants are not considered soldiers and can be shot as spies.)

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

lareader (1191563) | more than 5 years ago | (#23101110)

If they were just shot, I doubt there would be much hue and cry (well, of course, PR spin would be put in place "US kills single mother without mercy").

It's the indefinite detention and probable torture that's iffy.

The US is cavalier in its attitude towards Geneva (1)

witherstaff (713820) | more than 5 years ago | (#23103144)

Since when do we care about the Geneva Conventions again? With the callous disregard to torture how can the US still expect treatment of our troops to fall within the guidelines? I love that the current administration knew they were doing something very bad by approving torture... 'Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."'

Since Bush suspended habeas corpus, not supporting other important documents shouldn't be all that surprising.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23105420)

As opposed to being shot as soldiers?

You people and your Geneva convention shit are getting tired. For every point you make about "illegal combatants" I counter with a point about ILLEGAL TORTURE.

Wanna play this game?

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

Ironpoint (463916) | more than 5 years ago | (#23099930)

The US uses smart bombs designed to NOT kill innocent people, to save the civillian lives. it avoids churches (who am i kidding, mosques), etc.
Evidence?

There are many, many videos available of mosques being destroyed in Iraq. Are you sure you aren't just repeating something you heard someone claim on television or in a newspaper?

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 5 years ago | (#23100166)

There are many, many videos available of mosques being destroyed in Iraq...
Yep. Sunnis blowing up Shiite Mosques, Shiite blowing up Sunni Mosques, the United States bombing Mosques used as terrorist bases...

Got a reference to any of those, btw? With a date, and the name of someone who can be called to confirm that they happened?

It's VERY easy to fake a video on the internet.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (5, Insightful)

AHumbleOpinion (546848) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098072)

There's something that really bothers me about this robotic warfare business - it doesn't seem fair to fight a war that doesn't put your troops at risk.

The last thing a nation and its combat troops want is a fair fight and equitable risks. They want weapons that reach farther than the enemy's, armor that can stop the enemy's, and they would prefer to sneak up on the enemy and employ weapons before the enemy is aware of their presence. Combat is not a sport, there is and should be nothing fair about it.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

UttBuggly (871776) | more than 5 years ago | (#23100154)

The last thing a nation and its combat troops want is a fair fight and equitable risks. They want weapons that reach farther than the enemy's, armor that can stop the enemy's, and they would prefer to sneak up on the enemy and employ weapons before the enemy is aware of their presence. Combat is not a sport, there is and should be nothing fair about it.
Amen! History would support that absolutely. Most wars, conflicts, et. al., demonstrate what you state quite well. In modern history, Germany and Japan did just that with the Blitzkrieg and Pearl Harbor. We returned the favor with Hiroshima and Nagasaki a few years later. In both Desert Storm and the beginning of the current war, we had bigger, faster, slicker, neater toys. Remember the Iraqis shooting at nothing in 1991? An F-117 is probably not "fair", but I'm glad we have them...and use them.

Ironically, both the F-117 and the B-2 are heavily automated. The airframes are unstable and neither plane is actually flyable by a human. The crews are the "man-in-the-loop", but they're flying robot "guns" in a very real sense. I think this is absolutely the current and future position of the military. I don't see a fully autonomous ground weapons system being fielded by the U.S. for at least 20 years. I think the state of the current hardware and software is about where speech recognition was 20-25 years ago. It worked, but wasn't great or even good for a long time after. Now, Ford has SYNC, you can buy pretty good software for dictation, etc. cheaply, and the hardware is very good. I feel a robotic ground weapon will take some time to mature and not pull an ED-209 or other similarly bad outcome. Plus, we may very well see some Frankenstein complex backlash that will serve to keep a human operator involved.

Where's Isaac Asimov when you need him? Oh yeah...dead.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

lareader (1191563) | more than 5 years ago | (#23101150)

The main concern is, I think, that if there is no personal risk involved in a war, starting or continuing one is much more likely since the public will tolerate them.
Of course, it will allow some parity between large and small nations - it's faster to manufacture a few thousand robots than increasing your population.

There are other concerns - economical for one, as a Mark One Homo Sapiens can be cheaper than big non-autonomous robots.

I'm all for automating boring and risky tasks - I'm not sure that automating war is a good thing, and I definitely don't think big remote controlled robots is the way to go. If you wish to automate war, get some bee-sized robots going (eventually nanite), use your targets DNA profile as the search goal, then release a few million robots at the most probable areas.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23102844)

The Blitzkrieg is fairly overrated. When invading the Netherlands which was badly defended they lost about a third of their 1000 planes and more than 2500 paratroopers, while 1750 more were taken prisoner and transported to the UK. Basically the Netherlands surrendered because of the bombing of Rotterdam and the large but much slower advancing main German army, not because of the Blitz.

The Japanese knew that attacking Pearl Harbor was a desperate attempt anyway. They knew They couldn't fight the US in the long run. And the attack was only a surprise because the US let it be a surprise.

Then there's of course mr. Hitlers expedition in Russia and mr Stalin's defence which seems to have been more of a contest who could kill most of their own people. Especialy the Russian government must have disliked their own people very much.

Then there's of course the Brits who sent unescorted bombers against heavily defended targets and the Americans who thought it would work even better during daytime. At least the Americans realized after a while that it might work better if they developed some long range escort fighters.

All in all I don't think you should use WW2 as an example.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (4, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098076)

it doesn't seem fair to fight a war that doesn't put your troops at risk.

      Whoa there! What, would you expect everyone to wear boxing gloves and fight it out by weight class according to the Marquess of Queensbury rules or what?

      War is not about "fairness", it's not about dying for your country - it's about, as George Patton said - making the other poor bastard die for his. It's about surprise. It's about hitting your enemy with all your force in his weakest spot. It's about kicking him in the balls and then shooting him dead when he's on the ground. Because believe me if you let him get up again he's going to try his best to kill YOU.

      Although I personally don't agree with THIS particular war (Iraq), the less you expose your flesh and blood troops to enemy fire, the better. The only catch is the cost. Robot armies are more expensive to build, maintain and replace than some grunt with a rifle. Especially when you're getting charged millions of dollars in shipping to ship a couple washers to the war zone (yes I'm being sarcastic, but if it happened before it will happen again - fraudsters are creative bastards).

      Therefore perhaps it's possible to economically defeat your robot-deploying aggressor if you can make him lose enough robots - but you will pay a price in blood and morale. And after all maybe that's the key - knowing that you're going up against a machine and are probably going to die, and the enemy is controlling the machine from another continent.

      But then again morale has always been a tricky thing to judge. People used to think bombing cities would erode morale - but the effect is quite the opposite. Proven in World War 2, Vietnam, Korea and Iraq 1 with the "scuds". Bombing civilians only makes them angry, not "demoralized".

      Who knows how this will work out.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (4, Insightful)

lennier (44736) | more than 5 years ago | (#23099198)

" But then again morale has always been a tricky thing to judge. People used to think bombing cities would erode morale - but the effect is quite the opposite. Proven in World War 2, Vietnam, Korea and Iraq 1 with the "scuds". Bombing civilians only makes them angry, not "demoralized"."

One of the problems I have with widespread deployment of ground combat robots is that it truly and literally 'depersonalises' the force using those robots in the eyes of not only the adversary, but of civilians witnessing the combat.

When you're dealing with urban warfare / counterinsurgency situations, it seems like the *last* thing you want is for uncommitted bystanders to start seeing you as a bunch of soulless machine-operators killing their flesh-and-blood friends and relatives. At a stroke, you've then lost even the tenuous moral credibility you get from having actual people shooting and dying in the combat zone.

Of course, you're most of the way there already by being suited up like Darth Vader and calling in airstrikes, so this battle should have been fought decades back - but increasing reliance on robots will not help win hearts and minds.

When you're just trying to kill a bunch of people, okay, sure, robots ftw. But if you're trying to make them think you're human... not so much.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (-1, Flamebait)

freedom_india (780002) | more than 5 years ago | (#23101926)

It's about kicking him in the balls and then shooting him dead when he's on the ground
Guess that's what cheney is doing right now to his enemies: The people of USA.
Kicking them with record foreclosures, and donating money to banks which have 'lost' money in foreclosures, while disregarding the plight of the man who has lost his home to ARM.
Plus, the increasing price of gas which hits the man doubly when he has lost his home BECAUSE some greedy bank raised payment from $800 to $3600 suddenly.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 5 years ago | (#23103180)

Of course you were modded flamebait - apparently saying anything anti-Bush/Cheney is "trolling" here on slashdot.

I don't agree that the current crisis is completely the administration's fault - any less than hurricane Katrina was. But their handling of the situation was not exactly stellar either, nor is it here.

The average american got HIMSELF into trouble by going into too much debt, by thinking that house prices would continue to increase at the same pace forever, and by borrowing on the "future" price of his home, then spending the money on a nicer car/plasma tv/whatever.

The "greedy bankers" helped the process along by giving almost anyone a loan, because after all they too thought that housing prices were headed up forever. If the person defaulted and the bank had to foreclose a couple years later, they'd still get their principle back even if they sold the house at a discount.

Record gas is entirely the fault of the administration - oh yeah I've heard the argument about China and India increasing the demand, but the truth of the matter is the price started climbing the minute Iraq got invaded JUST LIKE IT DID in the first gulf war. When you bring war to the oil producing area, people get nervous about the stability of the supply and the price climbs. Then all the speculators jump in and KEEP the price high because hey, oil is a pretty sure bet nowadays.

The high energy costs are the kick in the nuts you are referring to. But I don't think housing is the administration's fault. The gov't perhaps could have done more to make sure that financial companies knew the risks when they were buying SIV's, but this is mostly the investment banking community's fault - again, just like 2001 and the dot-com bubble.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

freedom_india (780002) | more than 5 years ago | (#23104948)

So why doesn't the government let the bad-decison-making investment banks die?
After all if you and i made an improper decision and went into debt, we have to declare bankruptcy.
The government does not lift a finger to help us, not even by giving us back our social security.

Similarly companies should be allowed to die. About a dozen banks go belly up, and the rest will get smarter.
That is evolution.
But then this government believes in Creationism, so i may be wrong.

All this hoopla about TBTF (coined by a senator in 1985 if i remember), is bullshit. After all, the Second bank of United States was dissolved and US did not die with it.

I say, Bear Stearns and Citi should be allowed to pay the price and dismantled, with assets sold in auction.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 5 years ago | (#23106224)

I say, Bear Stearns and Citi should be allowed to pay the price and dismantled, with assets sold in auction.

      Personally I agree. But if Citi and Bear and others go under, they're taking a lot of people's 401(k) with them. The stock market would certainly crash. As a day trader I really don't give a damn, up or down is all the same to me. I LIVE on volatility. But mom and dad who are relying on their stocks for retirement would be out of luck - especially since social security is just not going to work either.

      I think that's pretty much the Fed's idea with helping the investment banks. But I do agree that heads should roll, certain individual people should face fraud charges, etc.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

witherstaff (713820) | more than 5 years ago | (#23103192)

Whoa there! What, would you expect everyone to wear boxing gloves and fight it out by weight class according to the Marquess of Queensbury rules or what?
Actually I want nations to duke it out with giant robots [imdb.com]

Re:They have robots firing from the air (2, Insightful)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098462)

"it doesn't seem fair to fight a war that doesn't put your troops at risk."

Only a fool wants war to be "fair". There are two basic reasons for this:
1. To be fighting a war necessitates that you hold the lives of your countrymen and the ways of your country as superior to those of the country you are fighting. It is impossible to "value everyone equally" and be fighting a war, because there is no reason to preserve your culture or life in preference to that of the enemy. In that light it is impossible to reduce the vulnerabilities of your own soldiers too much.
2. The more equally balanced the sides of a war the longer it will last and the higher the death toll will be before a true victor can emerge. A "fair" war would have the highest possible causalities and damage to both sides, an overwhelming force and decisive victory has the fewest causalities and the least collateral damage.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

Qrlx (258924) | more than 5 years ago | (#23100332)

So let's say you build the army of robots, and you can pull off the most amazing military operation with practically no risk. There's always the possibility that your shiny new toys will be used something bad, such as a coup, or indiscriminant massacres of civilians. Robots won't have to shoot through their tears like our boys at My-Lai.

You know, we could win all our battles and not lose a man if we used neutron bombs and poison gas. But we've chosen not to go down that path. (Well, we've researched the stuff but it's never been a big part of the arsenal and to my knowledge we've never used chemical weapons in battle.)

So as technology evolves, we will face these choices again. We can decide to built autonomous killer robots, or we can decide not to. We can militarize space, or we can decide not to.

(Tinfoil hat: We can have the FBI to collect DNA from everyone they arrest, from which in 20 years time a killer bug targeting one specific person's DNA might be developed, or we can decide not to.)

It's not foolish to consider carefully the implications of pursuing a technology track. Quite the contrary.

You don't need robots to make war easy (1)

Skyshadow (508) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098854)

If there's one thing we should have learned by now, it's that people don't *really* care if their soldiers are getting blown up so long as they're still able to buy plasma TVs at Costco.

I mean, sure -- you hear about GIs dying when it's fresh and interesting and the talking heads can spend time re-explaining what an IED is, but after a while people say to themselves, "Hey, I wonder what that crazy Britney girl has been up to?" and tune out. They vote back in politicians who more properly belong in prison for their contributions to the war. Shit, they even take those moronic 'Support our Troops!' magnets off their SUVs after a while.

Troops keep dying and getting maimed, but it doesn't even make the front page of newspapers. Hell, look at your local rag -- I'll bet that high school sports scores are easier to find than a story about the soldiers killed there this week.

So I guess from that POV it doesn't matter if we have machines or people out getting blown up. We simply don't give a shit so long as the news doesn't overlap American Idol.

I need a drink.

Re:You don't need robots to make war easy (1)

lareader (1191563) | more than 5 years ago | (#23101184)

Nah - the losses by the US has really been very, very small.
Compare it to 'nam - there you'd see more unrest, but also more people dying.

Using robots would decrease US losses further - I do not know if they would help the US "win the war" since the objectives of the war seems vaguely defined, but they would make the war less politically costly.

However, using robots will dramatically *increase* the amount of resources used - a "grunt" is remarkably versatile and on the whole cheap (on the pay balance-sheet). Manufacturing robots that take the place of most of the ground troops would cost a pretty penny.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

mi (197448) | more than 5 years ago | (#23099162)

it doesn't seem fair to fight a war that doesn't put your troops at risk.

Fair? What is this, some sort of sport for you? We are not in competition here — we want to be able to crush an opponent as quickly and painlessly, as possible.

My concern is that if the US were able to wage war with no risk of life at all, it might become quite a bit more despotic to other countries.

How many fellow Americans are you willing to sacrifice to alleviate this concern? Not to depose a (real) despot, not to win a war, just to alleviate a (bogus) concern?

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

Qrlx (258924) | more than 5 years ago | (#23100356)

I read your response and the contents of your sig.

I suspect that if the Arab nations were on the verge of deploying autonomous military robots, you would be willing to sacrifice a very large numbers of Americans to alleviate the very thing you just claimed was a bogus concern.

Be well.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

mi (197448) | more than 5 years ago | (#23101778)

you would be willing to sacrifice a very large numbers of Americans to alleviate the very thing you just claimed was a bogus concern.

Not for that, but to win a war.

And no, I never called Arab despotism a bogus concern. I called "America's despotism" a bogus concern. There is no "symmetry" here.

Re:They have robots firing from the air (1)

STrinity (723872) | more than 5 years ago | (#23103082)

Fairness is not a martial virtue.

Bravery is not a martial virtue.

The goal of the military is to win wars with the the fewest amount of casualties possible.

I build robots as a hobby.... (2, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#23097962)

Hardware meets software at the corner of 'I didn't know it would do that' and 'how the fuck can a sensor cost that much' ...

If they pulled the funding I'm willing to bet that there are political reasons.

Other than that, there is only so much you can get a given set of hardware pieces to do. If they overpromised and underdelivered on the hardware, no more dollars for you!

The trouble with robots is that they are not quite like jet planes. Once you commit on a new jet, you have to wait for it to be a complete failure in the field, and have already invested millions of dollars. When the investment is orders of magnitude less, it takes less of a reason to decide to pull funding.

If the govt. folk want a robot that just has to do things that can't be done in that form factor, or for the stated price, it's a game of get your money and get out of the contracting for a bit only to come back later for more contracts.

Perhaps the real reason it's being pulled is that it is designed for urban combat in non-sandy areas? Like say... oh... fucking main street in your home town?

If Iraq was just the proving ground for gen-1 of robocop, pulling funding is a way to push it underground and out of the public view untill they can pull it out of the robocop dispatch center and use it against the appropriately large starving/out of work demonstrators in a city near you.

No, no tin foil hat for me, I truly do believe that the neocons and the Bush administration are exactly that evil.

Re:I build robots as a hobby.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23103284)

If they pulled the funding I'm willing to bet that there are political reasons.
Sorta. Not too many people within the military actually want these things, and quite a few openly oppose them. If you build robots, you're all too familiar with their performance limitations - at their best they're slow, heavy, deaf, half blind, and none too clever, not too mention that endurance maxes out at a couple of hours. That's OK for now in certain applications like EOD, but it's not OK for anything tactical. Things like grasping an item, tracking an object, or navigating a hallway can be very impressive in the lab, but remember how low your expectations are in that context.

Re:I build robots as a hobby.... (1)

CompMD (522020) | more than 5 years ago | (#23105318)

"Perhaps the real reason it's being pulled is that it is designed for urban combat in non-sandy areas? Like say... oh... fucking main street in your home town?"

No. I worked on a contract for developing a fully autonomous guidance system for the SWORDS/TALON robot. I didn't even have the high-end military treads on mine, and it could go wherever it damn well pleased. FYI, a TALON was stored on the roof of a HMMWV in Iraq. The vehicle was on a bridge over a river and swerved, and the TALON fell off, into the river. One of the troops pulled out the operator control unit, and was able to communicate with the submerged robot. The soldier proceeded to get the robot to drive itself out of the river.

It can take sand.

Re:I build robots as a hobby.... (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#23105602)

I worked on a contract for developing a fully autonomous guidance system for the SWORDS/TALON robot.
Would you mind (if you can) detail a bit more at high level what 'fully autonomous' means in this instance... for the home viewers?

A quick glance... (2, Funny)

WwWonka (545303) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098036)

....and I thought this might have been the first /. article on new robotic AI anti-reproductive methods.

Damn that Sara Conner... (3, Funny)

Kenja (541830) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098070)

Damn that Sara Conner, keeps blowin up mah robots!

Course, we can always make more death bots.

UGV (1)

WarJolt (990309) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098206)

Armed unmanned ground vehicle. Nice name for a gun wielding robot.

So I assume these are radio controlled. Two reason I never thought these would work.

A. It's easy to jam a signal in a relatively close distance.

B. Just like computers once you have physical access to the hardware it's easy to take control of it, like in terminator when they took control of the robot. Much safer for unmanned vehicles to be in the air. Harder to get your hands on them

Re:UGV (1)

SL Baur (19540) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098948)

Armed unmanned ground vehicle. Nice name for a gun wielding robot.

So I assume these are radio controlled. Two reason I never thought these would work.
That's a bad assumption, so I won't bother responding to your conclusions.

None of the robotic prototype weapons I saw while working for a defense contractor in the 1980s were radio controlled.

Philip K. Dick Anyone? (1)

c_forq (924234) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098232)

Weren't the self-replicating robots Philip K. Dick had in one of his stories called SWORDS? The one with the Americans on the moon using them to unleash hell on the Soviets on earth if I recall correctly, I think there was a low-budget movie based on it.

Re:Philip K. Dick Anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23098334)

They were called "claws" in the novel and "blades" in the movie :) close, though...

Re:Philip K. Dick Anyone? (1)

c_forq (924234) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098926)

Jarred my memory, movie was "Screamers". And they were referred to as swords at least once, from IMDB: "Hendricksson: It's a sword, Jefferson. Take a look. They call it a Screamer. It was developed for us by an alliance on Earth to neutralize the war on the ground here"

Well... (1)

ribo-bailey (724061) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098538)

We really will have a robot revolt on our hands if the robots don't pull out. Eeeeevvry bit is saaaaaacred, eeeevry bit is greeeeaaaat.

Re:Well... (2, Informative)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 5 years ago | (#23098720)

Every bit is sacred? Is that how robots do it, a whole bunch of 1's headed in a race to get to the 0 first? The two bits become a nibble, nibbles become bytes, bytes become words, and pretty soon you've got the start of a new robot?

(All you old timers...how long since you've heard of four bits as a nibble? Wasn't that the name of an Apple magazine?)

Re:Well... (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#23105526)

(All you old timers...how long since you've heard of four bits as a nibble? Wasn't that the name of an Apple magazine?)

Actually I still use it all the time. Especially when discussing say the hexadecimal value of a config register or a page table entry, we'll say things like "The 3rd nibble should be F".

Legal Issues of Autonomous Weapons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23098642)

A recent law journal article, featured on BoingBoing today, addresses the issue of the legality of brain-interfaced and autonomous weapons. A description of the article is available here [mindhacks.com] and the article itself may be found here [cornell.edu].

Bender!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23098804)

What's going to happen to Bender? They can't try to melt him down, he'd make them kiss his shiny metal ass!

Popular Mechanics (1)

memnock (466995) | more than 5 years ago | (#23099216)

i don't read it much, but i see a couple of issues laying around where i work sometimes. the magazine seems TO ME to be some kind of ad mag for weapons and military tech. but i'm not a regular reader.

don't know about robots (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23099350)

i don't know about robots, but right after i pulled out of the hot chick in accounting i faceboogled her.

I felt good about things until (2, Interesting)

mykepredko (40154) | more than 5 years ago | (#23099746)

Reading through the article, I found that Qinetiq put in the following quote:

SWORDS is currently deployed in Iraq, and has been there uninterrupted for almost a year.
  There have been no instances of uncommanded or unexpected movements by SWORDS during this period, whether in-theatre or elsewhere. A few years ago during the robot's development, there were three minor movement issues that were expected, identified and addressed during rigorous stateside testing--prior to the Army's Safety Confirmation back in 2006. Here is what actually happened:
- One uncommanded movement was caused by a loose wire (result: redundant wiring on every circuit).
- One was caused by a solder break (result: double solder).
- The third, which may not even count, was a test of the robot sitting on a 45-degree incline in 90-degree heat to see how long it would last. After about two hours and 30 minutes, the motor started to overheat and shut down so it wouldn't burn out. That caused SWORDS to start to slide backward down the incline. The operator stopped it.

Any comments made after this timeframe about setbacks related to the robotics industry were hypothetical--never in response to some nonexistent SWORDS incident after the Safety Confirmation.


What is "double solder"? I can understand having redundant wiring and coming up with a way to automatically turn the robot perpendicularly to the slope to minimize energy lost keeping its place but you have to make sure the soldering is done correctly, you don't resolder something and expect it to be more reliable (actually, the reverse would be true).

Can anybody comment?

myke

Re:I felt good about things until (1)

EotB (964562) | more than 5 years ago | (#23101788)

Might be meaning solder top and bottom, assuming they are talking about thru-hole components that are wave soldered initially.

Re:I felt good about things until (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 5 years ago | (#23102366)

A "solder" is a "soldier" missing an "i".

A double solder is probably a military robot with failures in both of its redundant vision systems.

Legality of autonomous weapons (3, Informative)

MixMasterAnonCoward (1273834) | more than 5 years ago | (#23099938)

I recently published a law journal article that was featured on BoingBoing today that addresses many of these issues, particularly with respect to autonomous and brain-interfaced weapons. A summary can be found here: http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2008/04/neuroweapons_war_cr.html [mindhacks.com]. The article itself can be found here: http://organizations.lawschool.cornell.edu/ilj/issues/41.1/CIN109.pdf [cornell.edu].

Foster-Miller robots (2, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#23100182)

Foster-Miller has several robot product lines. The TALON line is widely deployed, mostly for bomb squad use and such. There are a number of variants. The SWORDS robots appear to have been a low-volume prototype design. The new MAARS line is more modular, with field-replaceable options ranging from a manipulator arm to a gun turret, and different configurations can replace the TALON and SWORDS units. If you look at the pictures, SWORDS looks like a prototype, with stuff bolted onto a TALON track base, but MAARS looks like a finished product.

They're all rather dumb teleoperators.

Foster-Miller also makes the Big Dog legged robot for Boston Dynamics. That thing actually has some autonomy, using Boston Dynamics software.

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23101712)

I can see how this situation came around...

"Hey, lets scare the living hell out of our seargeant"
"Wouldn't that get us into trouble?"
"Naaah, we'll say it was a malfunction"

ROFL... (1)

Evil Kerek (1196573) | more than 5 years ago | (#23102098)

It is now, of course, quite amusing to go back and read all the knee-jerk posts from the previous news stories. Makes more than a few of you look a bit stupid.

EK

Remote Controlled = ! a Robot (1)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 5 years ago | (#23104068)

AFAIK, these machines are not robots, they're remote controlled. You car isn't a robot. If you install some means to control it from afar, it is still not a robot. Your Roobma is a robot. /still waiting for PACRATS
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