Friday, 9 March 2012

The Robotic Cheetah

Military robots have long been desirable. They won’t ask for wages, won’t have qualms about doing unpleasant but necessary tasks and won’t even complain. It would also be nice if patriotic citizens didn’t get killed, and instead hardware got forcibly decommissioned.

Some time ago the dog (which is more of a mule, as it’s intended for weight-bearing primarily) was unveiled. It’s not, I think, finished, but it’s clearly pretty advanced. The robotic beast of burden has phenomenal balance, a steady pace and the ability to walk on pretty much any terrain.

Now the clever chaps at Boston Dynamics have created a robotic cheetah, which has recently broken the speed record for robots (now 18mph, having previously been 13mph).

Technological progress and non-human combatants have always been critical in warfare. Whether exceptional cases (Hannibal’s use of snakes in naval warfare or Wojtek, the Polish bear who fought in WWII) or more common ones (elephants, horses, camels) they can add a tactical or strategic advantage.

I think robotics could play a great role in logistics and intelligence (it’s not hard to imagine even more advanced surveillance robots as well as the dog or cheetah above), but I’m doubtful as to whether armed robots would be wise. They’d need to be able to differentiate between enemies and allies and I don’t know whether that will ever be possible, given the wide variety of context. If a robotic mule breaks then gear has to be carried by something else, but if a robotic velociraptor broke down it could pose a serious risk to civilians or its own side.



  1. You might want to look at this TED Talks presentation, which raises some interesting points of ethics about the use of robots in war.

  2. Cheers for the link, Mr. Llama, and it's nice to see you've emerged from hibernation :)

    A very interesting video. The dehumanisation of warfare bit (around 6-8 minutes in) reminded me of MGS2, where Snake is disdainful of the VR warrior Raiden. His training wasn't real field exercises but VR, which, it was suggested, happened to desensitive Raiden to the actual effects of warfare and make it more like a computer game (ironic indeed, but the point stands).