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Robotics The Military

Robot Warfare Going Open Source 105

destinyland writes "Peter Singer, author of the new book Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, says 'You can build your own version of the Raven drone, which is a widely used military drone, for about $1,000.' Singer argues that 'just like software, warfare is going open source.' He warns that, ultimately, robot warfare may even expand beyond the military using more DIY and off-the-shelf systems. In addition to 43 countries now working on military robots, there are 'non-state actors ranging from Hezbollah to this militia group in Arizona to a bunch of college kids at Swarthmore... One person's hobby — such as the hobbyist who flew a homemade drone from North America to Great Britain — can be another person's terrorist strike option.'"
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Robot Warfare Going Open Source

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  • Asimov (Score:5, Funny)

    by Afforess ( 1310263 ) <> on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:25PM (#28090825) Journal
    Quick, someone embed the three laws in the linux kernal.
  • Sure you can (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:35PM (#28090893) Homepage Journal

    You can build your own version of the Raven drone, which is a widely used military drone, for about $1,000.

    You mean this? Raven Drone []. Umm.. maybe you could build the airframe for under $1000.. or at least something that looks like it. I seriously doubt you could get the radio control equipment, let alone the camera or milspec GPS receivers (which cost $10k each and you have to justify why you want them and promise not to export them).

    If the book is as accurate as this interview, I think I'll just read fiction.

    • Re:Sure you can (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bughunter ( 10093 ) <> on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:47PM (#28090967) Journal

      The submitter assumes that RQ-11B Ravens are simple RC planes. Not quite. They have fully autonomous piloting and navigation features, and include state of the art EQ and IR cameras, and a sophisticated ground system, which includes a CF-19 Toughbook.

      I build cameras for RQ-11B Ravens. The L3-Com transmitters and receivers alone cost ~$5k per set (both air and ground Tx and Rx).

      And still, assuming you can get those surplus for $5, the custom avionics and firmware in the planes will cost you many k$ in equivalent effort to duplicate.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Hairy1 ( 180056 )

        Okay, so get a phone like the Neo or gPhone - $400, hook up the Servos via USB and a PhidgetController - $200 - and write some custom Python code to make it all hang together. Put it all in a stock Model airplane - $150 -and you have an autonomous model aircraft. Oh - and the phone means you have GPS and GPRS for navigation and control.

        Of course, there are many peaceful purposes for such systems, and it certainly won't carry much of a payload if evil is your objective. And to be honest the evil terrorists

        • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *

          Umm.. where are you getting this "stock model airplane" for $150... let alone one that can lift a phone. Put down the crack pipe.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Hairy1 ( 180056 )

            How about here:

            Oh, and I may not make autonomous planes, but I do make autonomous boats, so this is more than talking out my ass; I've actually built this kind of kit.

            Its not like you have an ulterior motive in trying to justify the cost the products your company makes huh. At 25K per plane I would like a bit of that action.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by geekboy642 ( 799087 )

              If you don't know the difference between a $150 toy and a $25k mil-spec surveillance uav, how do you manage to scrape up the braincells long enough to even log into slashdot? Look at the model you linked. Top speed somewhere around a slow jog, runtime of (charitably) 15 minutes, and a payload capacity of around an ounce. There's a world of difference between a boat and an airplane, specifically in that your vehicles only have to be watertight and minimally buoyant. Oh, and then there's that thing about boat

              • Look, I know you guys are having fun floppin' it out and having a good ol' measure, but I can see the point that you don't need a whole lot of money to make something that kind of works. I can actually see how for around $1000 it would be possible to build a plane that could be launched and flown manually to around 300m AGL, carry 400g of explosive and another 600g of misc nails and bolts and glide autonomously to 10m above a preprogrammed spot before exploding above a market, for example, or barracks.

                It wo

                • Uhm, a remote-controlled flying bomb ain't even close to a surveillance UAV. I suspect you missed the point by, oh, a LOT. And yes, I already have a plane that can manage a few hundred meters altitude. Rigging it to explode would be trivial.

                  But for $1000, you can have one hell of a claymore if you give up the Tom Clancy plot. Just have someone carry a briefcase somewhere and leave it.

                  • by umghhh ( 965931 )
                    if you watch the news it is still easier to find somebody to bring the briefcase with explosives (or a truck of it for a good measure) and engage the ignition than to build and operate the drone.

                    Could this mean that Hezbollah is losing the war over souls or are t he drones not infallible enough?

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by nelsonal ( 549144 )
                Yeah and there's quite a few differences between a SUN enterprise server and a bunch of PCs clustered together, but for a surprisingly large number of jobs they'll both work quite well. Realizing that too late to be meaningful cost SUN it's independence.
          • Re:Sure you can (Score:4, Interesting)

            by hughk ( 248126 ) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @05:47AM (#28092683) Journal
            This article [] discusses bunch of Brazilians have been caught using an expensive ($1K), but still hobbyist, stripped down r/c helicopter to airlift 9 mobile phones to prison inmates. I was also very surprised as I thought the payload, particularly on amateur planes/copters usually wasn't worth a damn. There is a photo of the helicopter and the bodywork has been removed, presumeably to reduce the weight.
            • Mobile phones are incredibly valuable to prison inmates, more so than drugs. Cell phones can quite light as well, so this is a good use of the technology --> trying to get something light to someplace difficult to get into by land.

              The same applies to other missions as well. A lb of explosives in the right (or wrong) place can be worth a lot.
              • A lb of explosives in the right (or wrong) place can be worth a lot.

                Or a kilo or 3 of heroin...

      • So... $1k worth of parts, $19k markup, and at least $40k effort to create the software.

        Yep, that's a $1000 UAV! :P

      • by Puls4r ( 724907 )
        It's funny how people say it can't be done - I'd guess they're people who haven't innovated much in their lifetime.

        How about an Iriduim satelite phone as the communication device? Last time I checked sending data over those is pretty easy.

        After all, you're not flying the plane real time. That's all programmed into the pic microcontroller. You're just sending it waypoints.

        GPS? Most GPS units send out simple NMEA data that directly interfaces to a computer port. So I take 2 GPS units. Perhaps i
        • No one's saying it can't be done. Everyone with a clue says it takes more than $1000.

          Hint: it takes more than a few lines of python running on a cellphone to instantiate a Kalman Filter that's been fine-tuned and HITL-tested.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hughk ( 248126 )
      Funnily enough, you can get some not-quite milspec stuff from these people [] and they specialise in things like miniature GPS receivers and 3 axis accelerometers. It might not handle the deserts or the tundra but will handle normal conditions without problems. There are even projects that use these for autopilots for model sailplanes and airplanes. Sure the GPS receiver in the Raven may have better interference rejection and be able to use the military GPS channel, but for accuracy you can always use DGPS rel
    • Wake me when I can build a Raven Mech [].

    • This kind of technology, though not as polished is becoming available to the masses. Here is a good example - []

      Simple open source auto pilots are now available, low cost GPS systems are available, RC air components are readily available. The point is that even the simple systems that are currently available wouldn't need much tweaking for use in some sinister way.
    • If you want just to build an autonomous airplane model, you don't need military-grade GPS.

      Civilian GPS receivers have hard limits to avoid being used in DIY missile guidance systems. They refuse to output a reliable answer when simultaneously above a certain altitude AND above a certain speed threshold.

      Since you're not going to hit both of these limits with an air plane model, the commercial GPS are going to be enough.

      Also I have a couple of friends who had very good success while recording movies from thei

    • by zlite ( 199781 ) *

      Singer is referring to our site,, where we've open sourced the technology to make a sub-$1,000 UAV. Unfortunately, Singer is totally clueless about technology, so he doesn't know the difference between our relatively modest UAVs and a Raven.

    • Milspec GPS? Naah... enhanced good enough. See [] for more.
  • Oh no! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If somebody makes a killbot without a pre-programmed kill limit then how will we ever defeat them?

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      The same way we always have--by sending waves and waves of our men at them. It's the only logical way.
  • Earlier we was all freaked about a guy wanting to make a UAV for pictures and now we need to code the 3 laws in the Linux Kernel?

    I just cant keep up with this place, I swear....

  • [] I saw a doco on this guy, last I heard he was about to be buried by the NZ Gov at the request (insistence?) of the US Gov. Poor bastard, you'd think some defence contractor would recruit him and have him build them low-cost rockets to sell to Pakistan or something.
    • by twosat ( 1414337 )
      He still seems to be around since he is still blogging on his website
      • by Ocker3 ( 1232550 )
        yeah, good to see he's managed to avoid the spooks and get back to making cool things whizz through the air
  • !gonnahappen? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i-like-burritos ( 1532531 ) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @12:08AM (#28091105)
    why is this tagged !gonnahappen?
    The "open source" part is a little silly, but the "anybody can use technology in inovative ways to harm others" part is very reasonable

    Seriously. Think about any world leader/other person in the world. If you didn't care about getting caught, don't you think you could engineer something to make them wind up dead?
    given the resources available today (especially the internet), it's not that far-fetched

  • As such, robot engineers will rule the world, make robot women to serve us, and put freakin lasers on sharks.

    Don't you suddenly want to change career?

  • No DIY-kit list (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mr. Freeman ( 933986 ) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @12:34AM (#28091229)
    Just great, who wants to bet that the DHS will make a "No buying aerial plane kits" because they can be "terror weapons"? And of course everyone will have to register their model airplanes. And consent to a search of their home if they own one.
  • Where's the V-1? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @12:37AM (#28091249) Homepage

    I read that book. I think it was even reviewed on Slashdot already.

    One thing that's surprised me is that nobody in the Third World has built something like a V-1 "buzz bomb". That's WWII technology, and it was a low-end technology back then, built from sheet metal. Just duplicating the V-1, adding a JATO bottle so you can use a short portable launch ramp, and adding a half-decent autopilot would provide a precision cruise missile capability at a low price. A low-end GPS plus a backup capability to revert to compass and time in case of jamming would work.

    Most of them will get through, especially if they each take different routes. The original V-1s flew in a straight line from launch site to target, the launch sites were fixed, and the target was usually London, so shooting them down wasn't hard. It took thousands of anti-aircraft guns, though. Who deploys thousands of anti-aircraft guns any more?

    • by shmlco ( 594907 )

      Many of the later intercepts were done by vectoring fighters into the V-1 flight paths and simply shooting them down like any other plane. And "thousands of anti-aircraft guns" were only used because at that point in time we didn't have ground-to-air missile capabilities. Which we now do.

      • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

        Several thousand dollar missile against a flying bomb with a cheap GPS and sheet metal wings? That's not terribly cost effective. Couldn't they just, like, make us go for broke by swarming?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by triffid_98 ( 899609 ) *

      One thing that's surprised me is that nobody in the Third World has built something like a V-1 "buzz bomb". That's WWII technology, and it was a low-end technology back then, built from sheet metal. Just duplicating the V-1, adding a JATO bottle so you can use a short portable launch ramp, and adding a half-decent autopilot would provide a precision cruise missile capability at a low price. A low-end GPS plus a backup capability to revert to compass and time in case of jamming would work.

      If they want a

      • by Ektanoor ( 9949 )

        That's a Scud. It's forefather was V-2/A-4, not V-1.

      • If they want a V1, why not just buy one ready made from N.Korea, Egypt, Syria, etc.?

        SCUDs are upscaled & reworked V2s, not V1s. The V1 was the 'buzz bomb', using a pulse jet, basically a flying stovepipe. It used regular kerosene and atmospheric oxygen. The V2 was a true rocket design, the first deployed ballistic missile.

        I do find it interesting however that the US attacked Iraq the moment it became clear that the aluminum tubes reputedly ordered for use as a gaseous seperator for uranium refining

    • That's WWII technology

      ...that was used exclusively by probably the most technologically advanced country at the time, where it had a cadre of top notch scientists to design the weapons and the resources of a nation to build and launch them in sufficient numbers to get noticed.

      We have come a long way in the past 60 years, but building rockets is still, well, rocket science. Why bother when you can strap 20 pounds of explosives to a zealous follower and buy em' a bus ticket?
    • Does NZ count as the third world?

      Bruce Simpson ( built a cruise missile half a decade ago and nearly sold it to the yanks []

    • by Ektanoor ( 9949 )

      No one builds V-1's because of a few things:

      1. It's out of fashion.
      2. To build one you need to do some homework on mechanics, aerodynamics and engines.
      3. If you know all this, you would probably spend your knowledge on something more useful for society.
      4. No wonder that the large part of terrorists come from humanitarian fields. They don't have to consider the "price" of putting all their knowledge on building bombs to kill people.
      5. High-tech isn't really the thing terrorists and rogues aim for. In most ca

    • Who deploys thousands of anti-aircraft guns any more?


      • by Ektanoor ( 9949 )

        Yes, but they seem of little effect to those palestinian rockets from Gaza, btw.

        Besides. Building today a V-1 would surely no stop by copying it. Probably someone would make some efforts to use some modern stuff, new radios, a camera. Anyway, the probability that some smart guy would do it in the middle of the desert is stupidly minimal. Even the palestinian Kasav's (just don't remember the correct name right now) seem to have developed from a "ready" design and suffered too little evolution in time.

        It's a

  • Whether or not you believe in this "singularity" stuff, it's obvious that the progress of technology in general constantly makes building improvised weapons like this (and weapons in general) easier. It also makes defending against such threats easier, but it'll always be more expensive to defend than attack (especially if we want to protect things which we currently feel are basic rights like freedom of expression and privacy).

    I hope we don't get to the point where random people in NZ [] (link copied from ano []

  • by nausea_malvarma ( 1544887 ) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @12:57AM (#28091349)
    If personal military robots are the wave of the future, what will this mean for 2nd amendment issues? Will there be a movement to protect a citizen's right to run their own robot militias?
  • Your kilo of Purple Shishkaberry will be making its final approach to your back yard in approximately 3 minutes. Please ensure that no cats, dogs, children or uniformed officials are blocking the runway. Thank you for choosing Aer Lungus, the micro-airline that gets you high by getting your cargo high. Please remember that we offer a volume discount for frequent fliers.

  • The guy who posted this [] is reading.
  • When you think of the money and time we're pouring into ways to kill folks off, and compare that to what it'd cost to relieve poverty and chaos, it's just tragic.

  • Old news. robocode!


  • Robot warfare is not going Open Source! If you want to take out somebody remotely, it is sufficient to build a torpedo, a guided missile, or a mine [].
    Anybody remember Bruce Simpson's DIY cruise missile []? Bruce Simpson has shown that you can build all of this using standard components of today.

    I hope the government will not severely restrict science in this area as well (just think about what happened to nuclear research). The path to industrial automation and robotics already has enough hurdles (proprietary so

  • It will be a great time, when the average 15 year old cracker noob can crack a whole army of bots, and turn them against their master. It's no longer a powerful government against a helpless you. Power becomes equalized. You do not need big money or big industries, to get big power anymore. You only need brains. Lotsa lotsa brains! ^^
    And don't think any military leader acts any wiser than those 15 year olds would. ^^

  • Looks like a great iPhone app...

  • I've seen the TAM (Trans-Atlantic-Model), I've seen the CCCongress's lecture on paparazzi. I would also have to conclude that if someone has a couple thousand dollars and the time, that you could build a cruise missile. Don't lie to yourselves, If I wanted to bomb Japan for shutting down my factory here in the states, I probably could do it. And that dumb ass N.Korean president is throwing so much effort into that nuke program... How sad. "Yay, I'm going to be a mass murderer."
  • Whew, the D.O.D. UAV's are scary. The Taliban are now starting to think they're missing out, so they've started their own Sky Net, yawn. The one enemy that every single human has is, "Chores". Armies would rather kill each other than, take out the Trash, Paint the Fence, or stop watching the game to help out. My solution is to build a machine that will Vacuum, put things back in their place, wash dishes, mop, take out the trash, cook(without burning), and recharge using solar, and wind. After this prod

"It takes all sorts of in & out-door schooling to get adapted to my kind of fooling" - R. Frost