Friday, March 10, 2006
Robots at war: What would Asimov have to say?
U0204993 ANG KIM HWA KELVIN That high technology equipment like security/surveillance robots can do much to reduce the exposure of human troops in military and counter-terrorism events  make them very captivating subjects. For instance, in the famous novel Deception Point, author Dan Brown conceived the idea of the Delta Force remotely monitoring scientists using very small bug-like devices known as microbots (micro robots). In the real world, defense forces have moved beyond Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and started exploring the potential of land-based armed reconnaissance robots. For example, the United States deployed robot soldiers called the Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection Systems (SWORDS) during the recent war in Iraq. Human US soldiers were able to operate these robots from a distance and minimized their risks of getting caught by the enemy. Essentially, SWORDS, developed by Engineering and Technology development firm Foster-Miller, is a hybrid of a small arms weapons platform mounted on a Talon robot . The weapons system are interchangeable (M16, M240, M249, Barrett 50 cal, 40 mm grenade launcher or M202 anti-tank rocket systems) . The Talon robot is an all-terrain, all-weather tracked vehicle with day/night capability. The system has an effective control range of 1,000 metres with firing range about 2,000 metres . It runs off lithium batteries, Singars rechargeable batteries, or fixed power supplies. The control box weighs about 30 pounds, with two joysticks that control the robot platform and the weapon and a daylight viewable screen. The robot can travel at a maximum speed of 6.6 km/h. However, firing accuracy is compromised at higher speeds. The weaponised Talon is a non-autonomous single-agent robot. It is controlled through RF or fiber optic link from an attaché-sized operator control unit (OCU) or wearable OCU being by a soldier watching from up to a mile away  . Vision and sensory activities are achieved through an array of cameras which can include both night and thermal vision. However, it is not unforeseeable that upcoming variants of the Talon can be autonomous. Indeed, if co-operative behaviours can be achieved efficiently, multiple autonomous Talon robots might just be the way future wars are fought. In Singapore, it is unclear whether SWORDS is being used by the Singapore Armed Forces. However, Chief of Army, Major-General Desmond Kuek, said that the army has established a battalion equipped with an integrated sensory network with mini-UAVs and robotics to enhance intelligence collection and situation awareness . Other countries like France are also looking into developing integrated electronic soldier systems. In the light of changes in the way wars are fought (such as Urban warfare), it becomes imperative that countries conduct research and utilize security and surveillance robots because they minimize casualties and present strategic possibilities to armies. These robots also offer a higher leverage for smaller armed forces. However, the deviant use of robotics at war remains a concern. One genuine fear is that autonomous military robots can be used "for things good soldiers just won't do" - such as allowing extremely high collateral death toll of civilians in order to kill a few unidentified or difficult targets, or demolition of buildings occupied by non-civilians . Lastly, as we appreciate the benefits of military robots to the user, it might also be interesting to recall the Law of Robotics, the first of which states that “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm” . What would Asimov have to say?
Posted by Security at 3/10/2006 03:34:00 AM