Daily Archives: March 7, 2012

The future darkly: more on military drones and robots

One of the most important technologies of the 21st century will be robots. Right now they are primitive, but they are improving all the time. Oddly, no one is paying them much attention. (Maybe if Apple starts making them, this will change.)

Over at Foreign Policy is a good update on 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Drones – By Micah Zenko. Of those 10 things, two that surprised me were:

6. Most military drones don’t bomb. Although decapitation strikes may get all the headlines, the vast majority of the time, drones are used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance

That surprised me, because whenever I hear of drones in the news, it tends to be around drone attacks. I also thought drones were low cost, but

7. Attack drones require more boots on the ground. Most unmanned aircraft flown by the U.S. military require not just a ground-based “pilot,” but also a platoon of surveillance analysts (approximately 19 per drone), sensor operators, and a maintenance crew. Some 168 people are required to keep a Predator drone aloft — and 180 for its larger cousin, the Reaper — compared with roughly 100 people for an F-16 fighter jet.

I expect more and more drones to be used because the cost will come down. But this surprised me too.

The whole article is good and worthwhile if you only have a vague sense of what people are doing with drones.

Meanwhile the folks at Boston Dynamics have released this video:

You might think: 18 mph…that’s not fast! Note the current fastest man alive is Usain Bolt and he can run 23 mph for 100 meters. In other words, this thing could catch almost anyone in 10 seconds or less. What it will do to you when it catches you? I don’t want to think about it. Nor do I want to imagine a herd of these things on the battlefield.

That said, how would they do in this environment?

Battle of Stalingrad

Not so good. Like I said before, the rise of the machines on the battlefield will change the way we go to war. In the meantime, it is looking like a Terminator movie more and more every day.

(hat tip to Kottke for the Cheetah video. The photo is from the Battle of Stalingrad, which was hell for anything: man, woman, or machine.)