Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Robotics The Internet

The Inside Story of the Armed Robot Pullout Rumor 105

Posted by Zonk
from the see-how-these-things-get-started dept.
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.""
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Inside Story of the Armed Robot Pullout Rumor

Comments Filter:
  • First Steps (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:36PM (#23097646) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • by MichaelCrawford (610140) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:58PM (#23097930) Homepage Journal
    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.

  • by AHumbleOpinion (546848) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:01PM (#23097952) Homepage
    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.
  • by deft (253558) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:07PM (#23098006) Homepage
    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.
  • by AHumbleOpinion (546848) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:15PM (#23098072) Homepage
    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.
  • by Dunbal (464142) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:15PM (#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.
  • by Original Replica (908688) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:52PM (#23098462) Journal
    "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.
  • by MadnessASAP (1052274) <madnessasap@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @08:08PM (#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.
  • by lennier (44736) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @09:17PM (#23099198) Homepage
    " 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.
  • by Perf (14203) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @09:39PM (#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.)

  • 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
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @11:25PM (#23100182) Homepage

    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.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.

Working...