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Military push for emergency robots worries skeptics about lethal uses

Published: May 17, 2015
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Source: Washington Post

It’s 6-foot-2, with laser eyes and vise-grip hands. It can walk over a mess of jagged cinder blocks, cut a hole in a wall, even drive a car. And soon, Leo, Lockheed Martin’s humanoid robot, will move from the development lab to a boot camp for robots, where a platoon’s worth of the semiautonomous mechanical species will be tested to see if they can be all they can be.

Next month, the Pentagon is hosting a $3.5 million, international competition that will pit robot against robot in an obstacle course designed to test their physical prowess, agility, and even their awareness and cognition.

Galvanized by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power disaster in 2011, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — the Pentagon’s band of mad scientists that have developed the “artificial spleen,” bullets that can change course midair and the Internet — has invested nearly $100 million into developing robots that could head into disaster zones off limits to humans.

“We don’t know what the next disaster will be, but we know we have to develop the technology to help us to address these kinds of disaster,” Gill Pratt, DARPA’s program manager, said in a recent call with reporters.

The competition comes at a time when weapons technology is advancing quickly and, with lasers that can shoot small planes out of the sky and drones that can land on aircraft carriers, piercing the realm of science fiction.

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