Science & Technology

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