Robotics

September 20, 2017
By Bob Gourley and Jane Melia
U.S. Army Research Laboratory scientists have demonstrated they can 3-D print drones tailored for specific missions. As unmanned systems proliferate on the battlefield, the military may need to consider a new law of robotics regarding cybersecurity. U.S. Army photo by Angie DePuydt

Science fiction fans recognize Asimov’s prescient thoughts on robot programming, captured in his three laws of robotics. In Asimov’s sci-fi world, robots were all programmed to protect their humans (the first law), to obey their humans (the second law) and to protect themselves (the third law). These laws laid the foundation for many fantastic, futuristic stories and have long provided actionable concepts for today’s robots, including those we launch over our modern battlefields. As the stories advanced, he later added another law, called the “zeroth” law, which had priority over all the others, “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”

September 1, 2017
By George I. Seffers
Benji Maruyama, a senior materials research engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL’s) Functional Materials Division, stands by the AFRL’s Autonomous Research System (ARES), which uses artificial intelligence to design, execute and analyze experiments at a pace much faster than traditional scientific research methods.

The U.S. Air Force’s most prolific scientist likely will never wear a lab coat, but it can perform experiments 100 times faster than its human counterparts. The robo-researcher may one day help spark explosive growth in scientific knowledge.

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL’s) Autonomous Research System (ARES) does not fit the conventional idea of a robotic system. It is not humanoid. It does not move freely across the ground or fly through the air. But in a single day, it can autonomously execute 100 experiments, compared with about one for its human peers.

August 28

SRC Incorporated in North Syracuse, New York, is being awarded a $7,957,573 cost-plus-fixed-fee completion contract for multi-intelligence swarm sensing research and development.

July 24, 2017
Army researcher Anthony J. Roberts powers a radio-controlled toy tank with hydrogen harvested from a unique chemical reaction. U.S. Army photo by David McNally

U.S. Army scientists and engineers recently designed an aluminum nanomaterial that produces high amounts of energy when it comes in contact with water, or any liquid containing water. Since the nanomaterial powder has the potential to be 3-D printed, researchers envision future air and ground robots that can feed off of their very structures and self-destruct after mission completion. Another possible application of the discovery that may help future soldiers is the potential to recharge mobile devices for recon teams.

July 1, 2017
By George I. Seffers
Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation

Scientists are on the verge of breakthroughs in developing technology for controlling robots with brain waves. Advances might one day allow intuitive and instantaneous collaboration between man and machine, which could benefit a wide array of fields, including the military, medicine and manufacturing.

The possibilities for brain-controlled robotic systems are practically limitless. Experts suggest the capability could allow users to operate unmanned vehicles, wheelchairs or prosthetic devices. It could permit robots to lift hospital patients or carry wounded warriors to safety. Factory robots could more efficiently crank out jet fighters or virtually any other product. 

July 1, 2017
By Sandra Jontz
Roboteam’s Zachary Lucas maneuvers the PROBOT Military Robot, a lightweight, all-terrain carrier and reconnaissance robot that hauls three times its own weight and allows hands-free operation. The adaptable plug-and-play platform can conform to troops’ missions to carry explosives, equipment, weapons and even troops themselves.

Robots have done their fair share of safeguarding troops on the battlefield, from defusing bombs to scouting out caves for insurgents. In spite of their success, or perhaps because of it, the U.S. Defense Department now wants its unmanned ground vehicles to be more than one-trick ponies. 

July 1, 2017
By Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC (Ret.)

Robots, drones, automated devices—they are but a few of the names given to unmanned systems proliferating across the military and the commercial sector. The sky’s the limit for unmanned aerial vehicles, and no ocean is too deep for their underwater counterparts. Yet the potential for these devices, which seems unlimited, is being hindered by the human element they support. Planners must abandon convention and explore disruptive approaches that will allow unmanned systems to reach their full promise.

May 1, 2017
By George I. Seffers
The various components of the so-called electronic backpack are designed to stimulate the dragonfly’s flight control neurons.

Researchers are planning the inaugural test flight of a cyborg dragonfly, a brand-new type of micro aerial vehicle. Harnessing the power of nature, the hybrid system is smaller, lighter and stealthier than most man-made systems and could prove valuable for military reconnaissance and a variety of other missions. 

Scientists with The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Ashburn, Virginia, are partnering on a Draper-funded project known as DragonflEye

March 3, 2017
By Maryann Lawlor
The Ghost Minitaur can now navigate grass, rocks, sand, vertical terrain, snow and ice fields, urban objects and debris.

The four-legged Chihuahua-size robot known as the Ghost Minitaur has been updated with advanced reactive behaviors for navigating grass, rocks, sand, vertical terrain, snow and ice fields, urban objects and debris. The platform boasts users including the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Carnegie Mellon University and Google.

December 1, 2016
By Sandra Jontz
Roboteam has created a lightweight robot for troops and first responders. The Individual Robotic Intelligence System is a rugged, nearly 4-pound platform that can be thrown into any space to provide real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) information.

Today’s ruggedized robots will go where man has gone before—and where man should no longer have to go. While U.S. defense officials are not ready to fully relinquish warfighting duties to robots, they are on the fast track to acquiring technologies and platforms anticipated to shake up military operations.

November 29, 2016

Recent technological advances have brought the on-orbit robotic servicing of satellites closer to reality. Now the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has kicked off the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS) to tackle the lack of clear, widely accepted technical and safety standards for responsible performance of on-orbit activities involving commercial satellites.

November 1, 2016
By George I. Seffers
U.S. forces in the Pacific need robotic systems capable of operating in tunnels and underground facilities. U.S. Army researchers in the region have coordinated an effort to modify existing systems to counter subterranean weapons of mass destruction.

A U.S. Army research and development organization in Tokyo is forming partnerships across the Asia-Pacific region—including in India, Malaysia and Vietnam—to help support warfighter needs and strengthen ties to neighboring nations.

One partnership involves multiple U.S. organizations that collaborated to modify and field a robotic system capable of working in tunnels or underground facilities to counter weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Researchers have fielded an interim solution, and a program of record is possible.

August 19, 2016

Foster-Miller, Waltham, Massachusetts, was awarded a $35,400,000 modification (P00013) to contract W56HZV-11-D-0057 for tactically adaptable light ordnance neutralization, family of robots, sustainment, maintenance and repair parts. Work locations and funding will be determined with each order, with an estimated completion date of September 14, 2016. The Army Contracting Command, Warren, Michigan, is the contracting activity.

July 1, 2016
By George I. Seffers
An all-terrain, search-and-rescue humanoid robot at Fort Detrick, Maryland, simulates how a soldier or item up to 500 pounds can be lifted and carried and how it can grasp fragile objects without damaging them. Unmanned systems of the future may be the first to encounter enemy fire.

Every U.S. Army soldier in 2040 may have a personal robot. It also is possible that autonomous systems will carry heavy loads, establish ad hoc mesh networks, act as communications retransmission stations, file spot reports on enemy forces and be the first to engage adversaries on the battlefield. 

August 1, 2016
By Andrew G. Watters

In the Marvel Universe, Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, creates Ultron as a peacekeeping autonomous robot platform. Imbued with advanced artificial intelligence, Ultron decides that humanity is beyond saving and should be cleansed from the Earth. The slick, shiny robots in the superhero film Avengers: Age of Ultron have no regard for the consequences of breaking the law or for causing compensable injuries and property damage. Fear not, for the Avengers assemble to combat Ultron’s terrible plans and save the world.

February 29, 2016
Georgia Tech researchers built the "Rescue Robot" to determine whether or not building occupants would trust a robot designed to help them evacuate a high-rise in case of fire or other emergency. (Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech)

People may trust robots too much for their own safety, a new study suggests. In a mock building fire, test subjects followed instructions from an “Emergency Guide Robot” even after the machine had proven itself unreliable and after some participants were told the robot had broken down.

The research was designed to determine whether or not building occupants would trust a robot designed to help them evacuate a high-rise in case of fire or other emergency. But the researchers were surprised to find the test subjects followed the robot's instructions even when the machine’s behavior should not have inspired trust.

December 1, 2015
By Maryann Lawlor
A robot may be the ultimate innovation, extending measurements to higher frequencies while characterizing antennas faster and more easily than previous NIST facilities.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created a robotic arm that is being used to measure the properties of antennas rapidly and accurately. The robot, formally named the Configurable Robotic Millimeter-Wave Antenna facility, may be the ultimate innovation, extending measurements to higher frequencies while characterizing antennas faster and more easily than previous NIST facilities. 

October 8, 2015
By Bob Gourley
The iCub humanoid robot at IDSIA's robotics lab in Switzerland tries to reach for a blue cup.

Remember this scene from The Graduate?
Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Turns out, plastics was pretty hot. Great tip, Mr. McGuire. I wonder what, if anything, Benjamin did with that tip. More importantly, what is the one word for today?

I think I have it. The word is Cambric. Cambric the finely woven linen? No, CAMBRIC the finely woven acronym:

September 18, 2015
RoboTeam, which builds the Micro Tactical Ground Robot, has been awarded a $25 million contract by the U.S. Air Force for a small robot system, logistics and maintenance support.

RoboTeam, Gaithersburg, Maryland, has been awarded a $25 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for an explosive ordnance disposal small robot. Contractor will deliver a robot system with logistics and maintenance support. Work will be performed worldwide as necessary and is expected to be complete by September 16, 2022. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition with three offers received. Fiscal 2015 operations and maintenance funds in the amount of $4,800,000 are being obligated at the time of award. The 772nd Enterprise Sourcing Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, is the contracting activity (FA8051-15-D-0009).

September 2, 2015

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Falls Church, Virginia, is being awarded a $14,150,405 cost-plus-incentive-fee, cost-plus-fixed-fee, cost, firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for the Advanced Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robotic System Increment 1, dismounted operations variant.  Northrop Grumman will procure and integrate the handheld operator control unit, communications link, mobility capability module, master capability module, power capability module, manipulator capability module, end effector capability module, visual sensors capability module, autonomous behaviors capability module and other minor components that comprise the dismounted

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