Sunday, May 31, 2009

UK's Sunday Times: "iRobot, where the Terminator is coming to life"

Mark Harris at The Sunday Times has a must-read behind the scenes look at iRobot's technology in "iRobot, where the Terminator is coming to life".
The article quotes an iRobot engineer saying that prototypes of flexible, chemical robots should be ready within a year (iRobot received a $3.3 million contract to develop chembots in 2008), wonders about the potential use of the iRobot Ember for delivering explosives and other weapons, talks about the ability of the iRobot Warrior to sport a Firestorm electronic gun firing explosive rounds (pictured), and the announcement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to extend SUGVs throughout the Army's combat brigades.
The biggest news in the article is iRobot moving forward on chemical robots and the report that the Warrior costs $300,000 a copy.
Typical of most similar stories, the focus is on the creepier aspects of robotics, like plans for additional autonomy followed by cautious statements that these robots aren't going to be shooting anyone on their own anytime soon, at least the U.S. versions. Other countries may not be so reluctant. (Personally, the day terrorists figure out how to make a robotic suicide bomber will be a scary one - and no one seems to ever write about that).
And iRobot's military chief shows he has a sense of humor:
At least iRobot’s Joe Dyer does have a few pointers in case you should ever find yourself facing a rogue robot: “It’s not unlike us: if you hit the right place, you kill it but there are other places where it’ll keep on working.”
And where might those right places be? “I could tell you,” he says. “But then I’d have to have one of my robots kill you.”
On iRobot's chemical robots:
Chris Jones, iRobot’s research programme manager, reveals details of a shape-shifting spy robot that could have been inspired by the liquid metal cyborg from Terminator 2. “We’re building robots that don’t have motors, wheels or anything rigid in them. They don’t even have batteries, they run on chemical power,” he says. “They’re made of new materials called dielectric elastomers, which are extremely flexible and can change shape by applying electric or magnetic fields. Ultimately, we will build a robot that is completely squishy and that can squeeze through a hole the size of a 10 pence piece.”
Experts in everything from origami and flexible electronics to the mathematics of Venus fly trap movement are working on the project, and Jones expects to have a working, slithering prototype within a year.
Thx, Kylebquick!
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