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Robotics The Military

Boston Dynamics Wildcat Can Gallop — No Strings Attached 257

Boston Dynamics has been making eye-catching (and sort of creepy) military-oriented robots for several years, and we've noted several times the Big Dog utility robot. The newest creation is the untethered, gas-powered Wildcat; this is definitely not something I want chasing after me. (Not as fast as the previous, tethered version — yet.)
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Boston Dynamics Wildcat Can Gallop — No Strings Attached

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  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @09:49AM (#45050759) Homepage

    Kinda reminds me of my ex, actually. Fast, noisy, high maintenance.

  • Government waste (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sonnejw0 ( 1114901 )
    Why not just use a horse? Costs less, more reliable, powered by renewable resources ... the horse.
    • by Jade_Wayfarer ( 1741180 ) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @10:00AM (#45050807)
      "That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead."

      Horse? Not even close.
      • Yeah I don't know why so many people seem confused about the purpose of this thing. It is a prototype killing platform. Replace the gas engine with a small nuclear reactor, strap on a machine gun with automated targeting software, and you have a quick manueverable discreet death machine that obeys any order it recieves. And if it falls into the wrong hands, you say? What of the nuclear material then? That's the bueaty of it, it doubles as a dirty bomb.
        • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @10:42AM (#45051033)

          there is no nuclear reactor design that could power that thing like a gas engine can.

          If there was we could have nuclear powered electric cars.

          I really wish people could understand that. the small nuclear reactors could power a laptop or two for 30 years but could never produce enough electricity fast enough to run a clothes dryer for one run.


          people see horse or mule and can't conceive of a horse or mule getting scared of bullets flying by and or getting shot. using a horse to carry your gear only works until the horse gets shot. then the horse runs away with your gear.

          • by foobar bazbot ( 3352433 ) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @11:19AM (#45051261)

            I really wish people could understand that. the small nuclear reactors could power a laptop or two for 30 years but could never produce enough electricity fast enough to run a clothes dryer for one run.

            You know, people would be more likely to understand that if we could stop this business of calling RTGs "reactors". The concept of a "reactor" (whether chemical, biological, or nuclear) is usually that it provides some form of support for a reaction to take place which otherwise would not take place, or would only take place in a different, less useful/safe/something way.

            Radioactive decay is not in any meaningful sense a "reaction", and would be happening to the Pu (or other "fuel", if you're using something different) whether or not it's in the RTG, at essentially the same rate, generating the same amount of heat. The only thing the RTG does is feed the decay heat through a heat engine (typically a Seebeck device, but there's some work using a Stirling engine), to extract some work from the heat flow -- no reaction, so it's no reactor.

            Ordinarily, I'd call such a distinction as this useless pedantry, and not engage in it, but you're correct that there's a problem with people being ignorant about RTGs and thinking they have capabilities they don't -- and since I'm convinced the general habit of calling RTGs "nuclear reactors" contributes to this, I think it's a distinction worth making.

            • So then the question becomes, could an actual fission reactor be designed small and powerful enough to power a car (or horse) -like vehicle?

              • So then the question becomes, could an actual fission reactor be designed small and powerful enough to power a car (or horse) -like vehicle?

                Short version, no. There are no nuclear fuels with the right balance of properties to achieve that. Long version: go Wikipedia nuclear fission [wikipedia.org], fissile [wikipedia.org], and critical mass [wikipedia.org].

              • Shielding makes it impractical, no matter how small a reactor can be -- stopping 50% of rays/particles of a given type and energy takes a certain thickness of shielding. So basically, supposing that the intensity of radiation scales linearly with power, the shielding required to reduce that to a constant level scales with ln(power), so half the power doesn't let you use half the shielding. Ignoring shielding (for the sake of discussion)... it might be possible, but it's still a very difficult problem; the
        • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *

          a small nuclear reactor

          Get off the crack. There is no such thing as a "small nuclear reactor". Nuclear isotope battery maybe - if you guys still had the plutonium for them (lol!), but nuclear reactors are not "small", unless you don't shield them at all and want this thing to kill hostiles and friendlies through radiation sickness. They can't even fit nuclear reactors on an aircraft, let alone something like this.

      • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @10:22AM (#45050915)
        "That horse is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you give it a lump of sugar."
        • I know what you mean by reasoning with it. I once brought my horse to some water, and by gum no argument I could devise would make it drink.

      • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
        I dunno. My horse is pretty amazing...
    • by shipofgold ( 911683 ) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @10:02AM (#45050815)

      Because if you strap a bomb to it, and then blow it up, someone will complain...

    • Yes, and journeys in early motorised carriages could have been done quicker and cheaper using horses.
      Not very good at the old forward-thinking thing, are you ;)

    • This is being funded by DARPA.
      In the military, there is a place for everything.
      Sometimes you want a horse, sometimes a mule,
      and sometimes a robot that can be air dropped alongside troops and other equipment.

      Have you ever thought about the logistics of getting a large, live animal to a staging point in the middle of [shitty and hostile territory]?

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
        If that's the way you plan to fight wars, you are doing it wrong. Which incidentally, is why you keep losing wars.
    • by poity ( 465672 )

      Robots probably cost a lot less in the long run. Think of the industrial horse farms that would be needed to supply the military. A small assembly line could crank out thousands of these a month.

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        Plus upkeep. The mechanical horse only needs to be fed when you're using it, and you can store it in a crate no bigger than itself.

    • by slick7 ( 1703596 ) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @11:00AM (#45051129)

      Why not just use a horse? Costs less, more reliable, powered by renewable resources ... the horse.

      And edible.

    • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @11:18AM (#45051247)
      Surprisingly, horses are not very good at running long distances. In fact, people can run long distances faster than horses. The switchover point in that contest is around the length of a marathon [discovermagazine.com]. This robot can run a sub-4-minute-mile, but more importantly, there is every reason to think it could be made to sustain that pace all day.
      • That's pretty much false. At the President's Cup, in Abu Dhabi [stackexchange.com], the record is 160 km in 6 hours, 21 minutes. Average speed, 25 km/h. That's faster than world record marathon runners go. It's in 6 stages, each longer than a marathon itself, but all in a single day. I don't think you'll ever see a human run 160 km in a single day, averaging 25 km/h while moving.
        • by TheLink ( 130905 )

          Yeah his own link stated that only one human has won that Welsh race so far.

          My personal hypothesis is humans may (or may not) have started running to hunt animals, but they really got better at it (and got better fast) because of War not because of hunting. Yes some tribal people chase down food animals for hours. But most don't. We use our brains. We prefer to spend our time doing other things instead of running around. Traps, ambushes, chasing animals over a cliff or into a dead end. The other land predat

    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
      Because no one will give you $500 billion dollars if you tell them you want to move stuff around with horses!
    • You ever try leaving a horse in a garage unattended for a few months, and then ride it when the time finally comes that you need it? Sure, a robot may need a little grease on the joints and a 10 point inspection after it has been in storage, but you don't need a bunch of land and people and resources to keep it healthy "just in case." Also, have you ever tried to field repair a horse with a detached leg? You can just screw it back together with basic tools, or send in another horse with a fresh leg, righ

  • by acidfast7 ( 551610 ) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @09:58AM (#45050795)
    great to recreate a horse ... but engineering is NOT bound by natural selection ... why not innovate? perhaps it's a fundamental issue with how engineers think?
  • by dryriver ( 1010635 ) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @10:15AM (#45050889)
    ...really smart people creating things - "war machines" to be blunt - that will wind up killing someone on some battlefield somewhere (probably the Middle East and North Africa). If BD were creating robotic devices for peaceful purposes - a "dog" for the blind, a robot that can do some old lady's shopping for her - then I would be applauding the effort/brilliance on display here. But building clever war machines? Sorry, but this isn't something intelligent, conscientious people would even dream of working on. So its "boo combat robots" for Boston Dynamics from me, rather than "yay cool robots"... My 2 Cents. Feel free to disagree...
    • the military will never be defunded. even now during a government shutdown the military can still force certain areas to keep development going.

      Second you have to teach the dog to walk before you can teach it how to watch for cars.

      Normal animals learn to walk on day one of their life. robotic ones are dumber than that. Some one needs to teach it to walk in public without a tether. Even asmiov that walking honda robot, can only do preprogramed areas.

      • Normal animals learn to walk on day one of their life. robotic ones are dumber than that.

        And humans are dumbest of all: it takes a human about 1.5 years to learn to walk decently.

        • Well, of course it does. We evolved to climb in trees. Monkeys and apes don't walk decently on two legs either.

        • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
          That's not because humans are stupid. It's actually because we're smart. Our nervous systems are born with very little myelin which leads to very erratic nervous conduction - but allows for radical re-wiring of said nervous system in the first few years of life. After a year or so, myelin starts to be produced and the human nervous system "sets", conduction velocities improve, and the human becomes more co-ordinated. And a lot smarter than all the other critters around him. Myelination stops when you're abo
    • by roeguard ( 1113267 ) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @11:16AM (#45051239)

      Sadly, a lot of our technological advances originate (or are refined to the point of being actually functional) from military projects such as this. We're all communicating over one of them [wikipedia.org] right now.

    • I would argue that developing forms of robotics for the battlefield (autonomous or not) has a huge potential to reduce hostility. Decision making on the battlefield in person has to take into consideration enemies, civilians and friendlies, and a naturally increased hostility is present due to the personal risk involved. With robots you can forget about the personal risk forget about friendlies and concentrate on separating civilians from hostiles, it makes combat one dimension simpler.

      Also robots can be se

    • by plover ( 150551 ) on Sunday October 06, 2013 @11:33AM (#45051357) Homepage Journal

      The military is like porn in that respect. There's a lot of money to be made in creating new tech that serves either one. And once that tech is somewhat matured, it can then start finding new uses that weave it into everyday life.

      To reverse the situation, why didn't people build the first automated robots as guide "dogs" for the blind? Or go back into history and ask yourself why were phonograph players marketed to everyone for playing music first, and not as 19th Century audio-books for the blind? Because Thomas Edison wanted to make a lot of money, and selling a handful of record players to some blind people weren't going to pay his bills. Selling a handful of guide-dog robots won't pay the staff at Boston Dynamics, either.

      People who create things want to make money from what they do. That means they either try to sell their things to the people who have the most money, or they sell their things to a really broad group of customers. At this time there doesn't seem to be a broad domestic market for robotic wildcats, nor for a lot of four-legged-self-balancing-motorized porn robots. That kind of leaves the military as their go-to source of large piles of cash.

    • You got the money, honey, I've got the time.

    • by poet ( 8021 )

      That will come. Military technologies generally make it down to the consumer but only the military can afford to pay for the R&D into such things. Once it is produced, used and does all its killing, it will make it down to the consumer for exactly what you say.

    • by Tweezak ( 871255 )

      Science fiction...

      1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
      2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
      3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

      • That's just fiction. The biggest market for robots is war. If you want to make money making robots, just make all sorts of semi-autonomous killing machines. Look at the current Darpa Grand challenge. I don't read it as ,"Break through a wall and rescue someone in a fire and drive them to a hospital." but instead,"Break down a wall, abduct a target and bring him in to be interrogated."

        What remains to be seen if it is fiction or not is: Because the robot is loyal to whomever sets it up, one rogue billio
        • by Tweezak ( 871255 )

          I did mention it was fiction, btw. I never said that governments or individuals would feel bound by any of those in real life. I totally agree with your analysis - greed and the lust for power trumps decency every time.

        • "Because the robot is loyal to whomever sets it up, one rogue billionaire can buy up a robot army and conquer his choice of any number of banana republics that he wants. ... So a single man to conquer a nation wouldn't be unheard of. In fact no one might even know who is the man who conquered their country."

          Good points in theory Something related I created:
          "The richest man in the world: A parable about robotics, abundance, technological change, unemployment, happiness, and a basic income.":
          http://www.youtub [youtube.com]

    • ...really smart people creating things - "war machines" to be blunt - [...]... My 2 Cents. Feel free to disagree...

      "Fun fact; before he built rockets for the Nazis, the idealistic Werner von Braun dreamed of space travel, he star gazed. Do you know what he said when the first V2 hit London? 'The rocket performed perfectly, it just landed on the wrong planet.' See we all begin wide-eyed, pure science. And then the ego steps in, the obsession. And you look up, you're a long way from shore."
      -- Maya Hansen, Iron Man 3

    • If there were more money for hugging bunnies, you'd be 100% correct. As it is, it's only a commentary on our society, and you're somewhere less than 100% correct, though certainly not all wrong. Someday down the line, we'll get robot rescue dogs. Right now, we're going to get robot murder dogs.

    • I do disagree.

      I find your moralism absurd and completely naive, albeit disappointingly common in the Western world.

      First, it's ENTIRELY too easy - from your presumably perfectly safe environment - too pooh-pooh disparagingly the necessity of military technology. How do you think we GOT to a situation in which (for most of us in the first world anyway) most of us can assume correctly that our entire lives will be spent peacefully in blissful ignorance of the consequences of war across our homes, our familie

    • You realize that the only reason you have a computer to moralize with, and an Internet to transmit your words of wisdom, is because of military applications. Right?

      • by celle ( 906675 )

        " is because of military applications. Right?"

              People were dreaming/developing projects long before military applications came along. Military applications was just the easiest excuse to get large sums of money when the project needed it.

  • Call me when it's powered by unobtainium and shoots lasers from its eyes and energy bolts from its tail.
  • I for one welcome our military petrol-powered gigantic robot flea overlords.

  • ...in a creepy sort of way.
  • It is designed closer to a Sheep and even runs like sheep do. I really would like to see them make one like a cat that can run, crouch and leap like a cat can. then we will have something that is fearsome.

    Imagine that thing leaping a 60 foot ditch at you.

    • I really would like to see them make one like a cat that can run, crouch and leap like a cat can. then we will have something that is fearsome.

      That requires a different approach to control than the one they're using. All the Boston Dynamics quadruped robots start up by trotting in place, then extending the stride.

  • Huh...

    They invented the rat thing.

    Though admittedly a huge, noisy, much slower and significantly less radioactive rat thing.

    Still though...

The best way to avoid responsibility is to say, "I've got responsibilities."