Today in Government Robots: Laser-Equipped, Pirate Hunting Navy Drones and DARPA Disaster Response Bots


The Navy plans to begin testing laser-equipped drones to hunt pirates, which allows for grammatically dubious but still excellent headline "Robot Helicopters to Hunt Pirates With Lasers." (No, the pirates do not have lasers.) Via Mashable's Tech vertical:

Pirates seeking plunder on the high seas might soon be caught by the U.S. Navy's autonomous "robocopters," equipped with 3D imaging laser technology.

The Office of Naval Research announced on April 5 that it would begin testing the pirate-seeking drones late this summer. The drones and a software program would be the first line of defense against pirates.

These helicopters will use high-definition cameras and sensors, including laser-radar technology (LADAR), to collect 3D images. The technology is called Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS) and will be attached to a robot called Fire Scout. Fire Scout and its advanced recognition software will sift through boat images captured by the camera and see if they match targeted pirate boats.

Currently, 2D technology used to capture images of ships from the air can leave the aerial crew at a disadvantage. With 3D technology and laser imaging, details on ships can be easier to spot.

Meanwhile, DARPA, the Pentagon's advanced research division, announced that it will hold a competition to develop "adaptable robots with the ability to use human tools," including everything from small hand tools to full size vehicles, in disaster zones.

The press release starts by acknowledging that robots are indeed pretty awesome:

As iconic symbols of the future, robots rank high with flying cars and starships, but basic robots are already in use in emergency response, industry, defense, healthcare and education. DARPA plans to offer a $2 million prize to whomever can help push the state-of-the-art in robotics beyond today's capabilities in support of the DoD's disaster recovery mission.

DARPA's Robotics Challenge will launch in October 2012.  Teams are sought to compete in challenges involving staged disaster-response scenarios in which robots will have to successfully navigate a series of physical tasks corresponding to anticipated, real-world disaster-response requirements. 

Sadly, neither of these taxpayer-funded projects is as interesting or potentially useful on a daily, personal basis as the frustratingly still-not-operational private Tacocopter service

NEXT: Brickbat: Stop Horsing Around

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  1. Wonder what a cost-benefit analysis of this would be compared to just paying the pirates to do something useful instead of being pirates. Yaarrr.

    1. Of paying burglars to stop breaking into houses.

    2. I’m pretty sure you would just end up with an endless supply of pirates.

      1. That’s what happened when they tried paying off pirates before the Barbary Wars.

        1. Yeah, I wasn’t being serious but does seem like a million dollar solution to a ten dollar problem.

  2. …will use high-definition cameras and sensors, including laser-radar technology (LADAR)…

    What would they use to locate butt pirates?

    1. Who is Alex Trebek?

    2. LADAR

      How lacist of them.

  3. OMG! The Pirates have lasers?!?!? Good luck stopping them now!

  4. You know it’s bad when you can’t even get Steve Guttenberg to do your sequel.


      1. He wasn’t terrible in Police Academy 8: Weekend at Tackleberry’s.

  5. Hey, Number 5 became a gold plated naturalized citizen at the end of that movie. Why do you hate American citizens SUDERMAN?!

    1. Wasn’t he “born” in the USA?

      1. They did not attempt to tackle that subject in the movie- if I remember correctly…

      2. He was assembled here, like most porn starlets.

        But do AIs have rights?

        1. I think AI should have more rights than natural stupid.

          1. I agree, but if we ever do achieve human-equivalent AI, the debatea will be quite instructive as to the stark nature of partisan ideology.

            CARBON, NOT SILICON!

            1. That’s an interesting-ass topic.

              Does human-equivalent AI necessarily imply consciousness?

              1. Yes, it would have to be conscious to be consider any level of true AI. If it isn’t smart enough to know what it is, it can’t be said to have consciousness.

                Of course, here’s a real puzzler… if you assume that AI have rights and that consciousness is an emergent process (i.e. takes a while to develop for each AI) is unplugging a computer that might be conscious eventually a form of murder?

                1. It doesn’t have to be smart enough to know what it is, it just has to be smart enough to make you think it knows what it is. How could we evaluate whether the AI was conscious? Hell, we can only presume others are conscious because we are and they are the same species.

                  Unplugging a computer that might be conscious eventually sounds more like abortion than murder.

                  1. I’m shaky on the Turing Test, there are things that pass it now given a large, but not unlimited question set. I think it is too subjective of a test.

                    1. How would you judge whether an AI is conscious?

                      Does consciousness necessarily arise from some arbitrary level of AI?

                    2. The Turing test as its obvious drawbacks, but I don’t think anyone has proposed a better test for artificial intelligence. And there are a lot of other questions to answer. Is consciousness enough? I think that it seems likely that a lot of animals are conscious in that they in some sense know that they are individuals and that there is an outside world and other beings similar to themselves in it. So there must be more to being a being that deserves the same rights as people. Sentience is perhaps a better standard, but I don’t think that anyone really has a rigorous definition for that.

                  2. You are way out of line, Elf bro. Your hippy dippy bullshit is gonna undermine mankinds ability to defend itself from the inevitable war against the machines.

                    Not on my watch! NOT. ON. MY. WATCH.

                2. wouldn’t that be electronic abortion?

                  1. well I guess it would be ok than

  6. Hey, Number 5 became a gold plated naturalized citizen at the end of that movie.

    Hey, thanks for the spoiler alert, you dick!

    1. also, blowing your mind here, that indian dude is NOT ACTUALLY indian! and he used to sex up Michelle Pfeiffer!

      1. that indian dude is NOT ACTUALLY indian!

        Uh huh, yeah, that’s great, sport.

        Meanwhile, my 24th Anniversary Director’s Cut (on Blu-ray, no less) has already shipped. And you just killed it for me.

      2. Last time I saw him, he had just masturbated himself to death.

  7. Skynet started as a flying privateer.

  8. Why aren’t they using laser guided sharks?

    That would be cool!

    1. All I want is some frickin’ sharks with frickin’ laserbeams on their heads!

    2. I think they already have dolphins that can plant explosives.

  9. Whew! No mention of music downloads. Don’t have to encase house in laser reflective mylar, yet.

  10. I’m pretty involved in a local IEEE group here in Boston, and it’s terrifying how many of these brilliant engineers & inventors have absolutely no concern for how their inventions can get misused.

    I’m constantly talking to guys who are thrilled with the latest grant they got from the govt to do X (usually some anti-terrorist thing), and I’m thinking X’ could be used so easily to ID and target people opposed to the government.

    Some of them could be subject of Tom Lehrer’s song Wernher von Braun

  11. So much for seasteading, I guess.

  12. “Pirates seeking plunder …”
    I thought pirates sought BOOTY!!! When did we go all PC?

    1. Which begs the question why there wasn’t a pirate in the village people.

  13. Something observed elsewhere (possibly here) regarding ‘military robots’ is how they are so particularly effective in allowing the Government to engage in activities that would otherwise strategically be too risky, or politically be far too unpopular if engaged in by actual serving US military personnel.

    After decades of increasing risk-aversion in the use of force (despite 10yrs of war), robots present a compelling solution for politicians and the military, giving them “options” that may not have existed before ? or would not have been seriously considered. They also have a way of neutralizing public opinion to some degree? which both politicians and the military *love*. Imagine if we’d been assassinating Al Q/Quetta Shura-crews in Waziristan/Baluchistan with Special Operations for the last decade, as opposed to blowing them up with drones every month. I doubt the public would be quite so blas? about it. Think of the seriousness of the “scandal” over US forces operating in Cambodia & Laos during Vietnam? whereas, “killing people in a country we’re not at war with” is perfectly OK when its done with Robots. Even when a number of those killed are civilians. Its just *not the same thing* for whatever reason. (cont)

  14. (cont)
    It lowers the bar for taking action, reducing the consequences; they provide a mission option that leaders increasingly will say, “GO” to, because the costs of failure (or risks of *success*!) are so comparatively low. No soldiers are going to be captured and beheaded. No images of marines burning hooches will emerge. Anything resembling a ‘My Lai’ incident (large loss of civilian life) can be blamed on ‘bad data’ as opposed to soldiers run amok. It becomes an ‘unfortunate incident’ as opposed to an ‘international crisis’.

    I’m sure someone (again, perhaps here) has written more seriously about this angle on the topic. If anyone knows of a relevant piece, let me know.

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