WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just for the sake of argument, let's say you were interested in building a humanoid robot killing machine. And why wouldn't you be? They're pretty much a must-have for anyone interested in time-travel executions, pacifying the streets of Detroit or clearing out a Wild West-themed amusement park. But what's that you say? Building a cyborg assassin requires futuristic, or possibly alien, technology? Well, not anymore!
The technology already on display here at this year's AUVSI Unmanned Systems Conference provides all the parts you need to build a "Terminator" today (minus the time machine and Austrian accent). Everything from indestructible endoskeletons to computerized targeting to gun-toting robots already exists in some form on the conference floor.
To be fair, all of the military men, industry leaders and policy specialists at AUVSI vehemently insist that they have no interest in building a robot that decides for itself when to pull the trigger. But just because they're not interested in designing one doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a shot.
Starting off, you're going to need a sturdy frame, something along the lines of SAFFiR, a humanoid robot specially designed by scientists at Virginia Tech to fight fires aboard Navy ships. SAFFiR features a titanium-and-aluminum skeleton, strong enough to withstand the heat of an industrial fire. To deal with the constant pitch and roll of ships at sea, SAFFiR also features some of the most advanced actuators and movement controls ever seen in a humanoid robot.
"To fight fires on a Navy ship, you need to maintain balance and movement," said Viktor Orekhov, a graduate student in Virginia Tech's Robotics and Mechanism Laboratory. "In terms of agility, intelligence by the time SAFFiR is finished, it will be the world's most advanced humanoid robot."
The Virginia Tech researchers don't just build tough robots, they also build smart robots. Two of their humanoid robots, CHARLI and DARwin, showed off their agility and brains by winning their size classes in the last robot World Cup soccer tournament.
Next, your robot's going to need a gun (the motorcycle and clothes can wait). In that department, Qinetiq has you taken care of. Qinetiq manufactures the MAARS robot, the only unmanned land system at the conference capable of firing a weapon. Basically a 2-foot- tall tank, MAARS sports a M240 machine gun and four 40mm grenade launchers.
Thus far, development of the MAARS system has stalled due to a lack of interest from the U.S. military in deploying armed robots on the ground, but Ed Godere, senior vice president and director of the robotics division, assured InnovationNewsDaily that "everyone in this industry will tell you armed robots will happen." Let's hope so.
Finally, that gun won't do much if the droid can't shoot straight, so any robot patrolling the mean streets of the Motor City or running the government of California will need a targeting system. Something along the lines of the Kestrel MTI from Sentient should do the trick.
The Kestrel system locates targets in real-time video, a process similar to the face recognition software used in some cameras. The system picks up moving objects, even when partially obscured. Kestrel then places a bracket around the target, allowing humans, or in this case, robots, to focus their attention on the area in the video they'd most like to blow up.
The current Kestrel system cannot identify the moving object, but the program can network with the U.S. military's Blue Force Tracker software to differentiate the objects into friend or foe, said Stewart Day, a spokesman for Sentient.
Titanium exoskeleton? Check. Giant gun? Check. Robotic brains and targeting ? Check. Your Terminator doesn't need to be back, since apparently, it's here right now.