Print 28 comment(s) - last by ok630.. on Apr 22 at 1:47 AM

The SWORDS robot, designed by Foster Mills is still deployed in Iraq, but languishes behind sandbags, dreaming of someday getting some battle action.  (Source: Wired: Danger Room)
Turns out the little buggers won't be leaving after all!

After initial reports from Popular Mechanics and other "more reliable" print news sources, that the semi-autonomous SWORDS war-robots were being "yanked" from Iraq due to their accidental targeting of human entities, it turns out that they only got the story half right.

While the robots did indeed get withdrawn from the battlefield, they're still in Iraq being tested and may be redeployed in the near future. This is much sooner than initial quotes by the program manager, Kevin Fahey, indicated (he previously mentioned as span of 10 years or more before the program would be fully active again in case of such an event).  Now, Kevin Fahey states more conservatively, "SWORD is still deployed.  We continue to learn from it and will continue to expand the use of armed robots."

Foster Miller, maker of the SWORD robot, was quick to try to dispel the hype that surrounded the announcement that the robots might be shooting at our soldiers, originally propagated by Popular Mechanics.  Said spokeswoman Cynthia Black, "The whole thing is an urban legend."

Black helpfully provided information on the specific cases in which "uncommanded movement" occurred.  She stated, "One case involved a loose wire. So, now there is now redundant wiring on every circuit. One involved a solder, a connection that broke. Everything now is double-soldered."

The third case had nothing to do with a gun.  The robot was placed on a 45 degree incline and left to run for two and a half hours as part of an endurance test.  Predictably, the motor burned out and overheated.  She states, "When the motor started to overheat, the robot shut the motor off, that caused the robot to slide back down the incline.  Those are the three uncommanded movements."

There does seem to be some confusion between Fahey and Foster Mills, as Fahey was reported as saying the robots recently did something "very bad" (indicating a serious recent failure).

While Black and Fahey fail to mention it, one thing that makes a "killer robot" scenario unlikely is the fact that the robots really are about as green as it comes when it comes to combat.  They (by all reports) are not being used very much.  Furthermore, they have not notched even one kill of an enemy combatant.

Stew Magnuson, a reporter for National Defense, was at the same news conference as Popular Mechanics, and helped to offer a bit more clarity as to what is really going on.  The real scenario he offered is that the robots are languishing in under-deployment to the frustration of Foster Mills and the conference was largely an effort by Foster Mills to express their disappointment in this situation.

Robert Quinn, vice president of Talon operations at Foster-Miller, stated at the news conference that the three robots sent to Iraq were stuck in stationary positions behind sandbags and not out patrolling the streets as its designers planned.  Army leadership was fearful the "through an interface" targeting of the robots via human operators in combat situations would produce dangerous results, and thus refused to deploy them.

Quinn complained, "If you have a mobile weapons platform that can’t be mobile, and it becomes nothing more than a fixed position, then why not just put it on a tripod."

The Army argues, he said, that they have not addressed and trained in the tactics, techniques, and procedures for using the robots in battle.  However, they say they can't put such measures in place until there are a sufficient number of SWORDS robots in place.  Foster Miller says they can deploy more robots, necessarily, without the information obtained from the trial deployment, so it’s a vicious case of the "chicken or the egg" for the Army and Foster Mills.

The SWORDS robots are controlled via a human operator on a terminal, but are semi-autonomous in that they can perform basic target acquisition.  They carry M249 light machine guns.  While the robots have been somewhat jokingly portrayed by the media as possible "rogue killers", in reality the greatest chance for failure rests in the hands of the human operator.  Likely, the largest risk of friendly fire stems from if the cameras on the robot provide confusing or insufficient information during a combat situation and the human operator errantly fired as a result.

While the SWORDS are relatively germane, the concept of fully autonomous war robots, using the advanced targeting algorithms that are currently being researched, is still a fair subject of intense debate.  It will likely be tempting in terms of resources saved for the military to eventually take the human operator out of the equation, given sufficient advances in artificial intelligence and mechanics

This decision is not a matter of if, as much as when.  When it occurs, the closing point of the prior article stands -- despite all the testing and development effort possible, is it truly possible to entirely rule out the chance of the robot turning on its human controllers?

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Bang your dead
By Misty Dingos on 4/17/2008 11:04:22 AM , Rating: 2
Eventually one of these machine gun totting R2D2s is going to kill someone. It will undoubtedly be a "bad guy". But the argument that he will be killed by a dangerous robot is fallacious. The final order is given by a human operator. So a human will pull the trigger in effect.

The issue of whether or not to give the next generation of combat equipped robots the ability to exercise weapon deployment at a preprogrammed condition is still one that is up for discussion. Eventually combat robots will have a list of “Rules of Engagement” just as any of our human troops do. The ROE will have clear legality under the Laws of Armed Combat which will not end the debate on robots in war but will throw some water on it.

One thing that should not be up for discussion is whether or not these should be in the field. I argue they should. Fielded in enough numbers they become a valuable force multiplier. And the certainly complicate the ground war for the insurgent. And anything that makes the insurgents lives harder is good in my book.

RE: Bang your dead
By Gul Westfale on 4/17/2008 11:16:26 AM , Rating: 4
are you implying we should be having sex with our dead? because that is what your title states... if you meant to say "bang you're dead", then it is different of course... because the way you said "would of been definately rediculously" silly.

RE: Bang your dead
By Misty Dingos on 4/17/2008 11:30:25 AM , Rating: 4
I have indeed made a horrible error. Banging your dead is well gross. And truly creepy. Here is my correction.

Revised Subject Title
BANG! You are dead!

RE: Bang your dead
By nugundam93 on 4/17/2008 11:37:05 AM , Rating: 2
lockon stratos, aim and fire!

Boom! Headshot!

RE: Bang your dead
By strmbkr on 4/17/2008 4:38:11 PM , Rating: 3
"Disassemble? Disassemble!?! Me no Disassemble!"

*Bang *Bang *Bang!

RE: Bang your dead
By Samus on 4/18/2008 8:33:21 AM , Rating: 2
Guns don't kill people. People kill people.

What's so different about replacing the object 'gun' with 'robots'?

RE: Bang your dead
By Justin Case on 4/18/2008 7:05:15 PM , Rating: 2
These are basically remote-control mobile weapons platforms. If this is a "robot" so is just about every RC toy.

A real robot, with the ability to operate on its own, definitely can kill people (and if you're going to say "the programmer killed people", then you might as well blame God for all your actions, blame gravity for every plane that falls, etc.).

In fact, some people believe robots are more dangerous than zombies.

PS - It's not the guns that kill people. It's the bullets.

RE: Bang your dead
By ok630 on 4/22/2008 1:47:45 AM , Rating: 1

Die painfully okay? Prefearbly by getting crushed to death in a garbage compactor, by getting your face cut to ribbons with a pocketknife, your head cracked open with a baseball bat, your stomach sliced open and your entrails spilled out, and your eyeballs ripped out of their sockets. Fucking bitch

RE: Bang your dead
By See Spot Run on 4/17/2008 11:24:35 AM , Rating: 3
Although not this model exactly, robots have already killed in Iraq. There was that instance last year when the Reaper UAV fired its hellfire missile at those two insurgent planting an IED. Substitute Wings for treads and missiles for bullets, and it's the same thing.

RE: Bang your dead
By snownpaint on 4/17/2008 1:40:23 PM , Rating: 2
Hopefully, they have better AI then some of the FPS video games out there. I do believe it should have a final real-person trigger to these machines.. Last thing a device that removes soldiers from the battlefield needs, is a error in it early use to trash the idea.. Finally, they should make these robots look super mean and intimidating. Have fire shoot from their mouths, and eyes.. Have them covered in blood and maybe ears on strings strung all over it.. Would you want to mess with a machine rolling up to your bunker looking like that?

RE: Bang your dead
By Sulphademus on 4/17/2008 4:11:42 PM , Rating: 1
Last thing a device that removes soldiers from the battlefield needs, is a error in it early use to trash the idea

How many people will die in the unlikely event of the system hitting the TLB bug?

RE: Bang your dead
By Misty Dingos on 4/18/2008 12:46:13 PM , Rating: 2
I hate to bring you down snowpaint no matter how gruesome war becomes no matter how horrifying the weapons, man continues to wallow, wage and glorify it. War brings out the very worst of man and chillingly it also provides a showcase for his most humane and selfless acts.

Whether the weapon was a stone plucked from the ground or robot operated from a building five thousand miles from the battlefield the nature of war has not changed. To kill and maim enough of the enemy so as to force them from the field of battle and to plea for peace or failing that, to utterly annihilate them. Man’s willingness to wage war is infinite as far as I can see.

Hey Iraq...
By Ryanz on 4/17/2008 10:27:32 AM , Rating: 6
"Your mother was a snowblower!"

RE: Hey Iraq...
By Brandon Hill on 4/17/2008 10:28:26 AM , Rating: 2

RE: Hey Iraq...
By 67STANG on 4/17/2008 10:41:20 AM , Rating: 2
Not a bad idea... make those little buggers look more like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, then distribute the movie to the Iraqi people. They'll think they shoot frickin' laser beams...

Of course, to pull off that ruse, we'll have to hire stereotyped Java programmers to follow the robot around saying catch phrases along the way.

RE: Hey Iraq...
By kzrssk on 4/17/2008 11:50:33 AM , Rating: 2
Those are the robots that were targeting friendlies right?

"Malfunction! Need input!"

Waste of tax payer money.
By Reclaimer77 on 4/17/2008 11:37:34 AM , Rating: 1
I'll get assaulted by the hand wringing libs for saying this, but this is nothing more than an experimental mach-up for later larger projects under the banner of " saving lives ".

Its a nice concept, but like it or not our boys are over there right now. Today. The funding for this little toy could of went into better battle armor or dozens of uses that can make a difference right now TODAY. Possibly saving lives and reducing casualties.

Its 2008. We're still not driving hover cars. We don't live in cloud cities. Robots are not going to do our fighting for us.

RE: Waste of tax payer money.
By i3arracuda on 4/17/2008 3:20:59 PM , Rating: 5
Its 2008. We're still not driving hover cars. We don't live in cloud cities. Robots are not going to do our fighting for us.

Yeah, they're too busy voting for us.

Friendly Fire?
By geddarkstorm on 4/17/2008 11:56:11 AM , Rating: 2
Likely, the largest risk of friendly fire stems from if the cameras on the robot provide confusing or insufficient information during a combat situation and the human operator errantly fired as a result.

I don't know about you, but if not acting only results in your robot being shot to scrap verses, well, your FACE, I think one could spare taking a little more time to scrutinize the situation and make sure what one's shooting at is really an enemy. How many times do soldiers shoot civilians on accident because they don't have the time in a life and death situation to analyze the threat?

In all reality, these things could easily lower friendly fire incidents with any decent training for the operators. That, and the robot makes for great cover for your squad mates, and is a juicy target for terrorists to be shooting at instead of them.

RE: Friendly Fire?
By DarkElfa on 4/17/2008 12:04:32 PM , Rating: 2
Meh, even if the robots randomly kill 1 friendly a year, they'll still be doing better than the live forces.

RE: Friendly Fire?
By Nik00117 on 4/19/2008 5:02:03 PM , Rating: 2
I agree, I mean think of it the HUman knows he ain't going get shot today, so as he is picking his target he is thinking clearly.

Nice Quote
By osalcido on 4/17/2008 6:00:00 PM , Rating: 3
Furthermore, they have not notched even one kill of an enemy combatant.

As if one life just isn't enough? Does this sound as barbaric to anyone else as it does to me?

RE: Nice Quote
By mindless1 on 4/18/2008 8:40:47 AM , Rating: 2
No, war is barbaric but the machines and weapons used are just objects. Would it make you feel better if we did it the old fashion way, lining up troops and having them head-on march into a massacre? All that can be assumed from saying that the robots didn't kill an enemy is that we still have to put our soldiers in (more) harm's way to get the job done.

It is still possible the robot deployment could become more barbaric, if we used them to advance on the enemy in an effort to just clear the area (kill if they don't retreat) instead of taking captives. Unfortunately it seems a bit too complex to find a way to have the enemy surrender to a robot instead of just feining surrender then destroying the robot. In tight quarters the human will resond faster so it's a matter of who is better armed, and whether the enemy human could survive and retain good bodily function after the detonation required to incapacitate the robot.

War is becoming more and more about posturing, not about killing all of the enemy but rather making them realize they can't win. The result we have already seen, in indirect attacks not on troops but rather innocent civilians.

There isn't much about war that isn't barbaric if we just extend every action under the context of supporting roles. Does it matter if one pulls the trigger on the field instead of being ordered to do so from (ultimately) Washington? Only time will tell if force was right, but at least for the US, we didn't just pop up out of a wish and a prayer, the country fought for freedom from oppression and every other country may have to do the same with or without help. Freedom isn't free, everything has a price. The non-barbaric world you hope for won't exist without the barbaric acts to keep peace.

they need fembots
By dome1234 on 4/17/2008 4:29:40 PM , Rating: 4
just paint some bots pink, make them noisier and require frequent maintenance and all would be fine.

War Crimes...
By DEVGRU on 4/17/2008 11:13:32 AM , Rating: 3
The thing is, is that these are machines.

They are designed, built, programmed, and operated by humans.

We are decades at least from any form of true AI. We have come very very close to mimicing AI or human intelligence, but in reality those are just advanced forms of simulation and cause-and-effect programming (ala the Big Dog for example).

Even if one of these robots accidently fired on and killed many friendly troops or civilians (a scenario that I hope never happens), it would still be 100% human error.

My $.02

SWORDS armanment
By cleco on 4/17/2008 10:40:52 AM , Rating: 2
Should also list M240B as it is pictured above in this article

Wait a minute . . .
By Rike on 4/17/2008 4:48:33 PM , Rating: 2
"If you have a mobile weapons platform that can’t be mobile, and it becomes nothing more than a fixed position, then why not just put it on a tripod ."

"Are you still there?"

Thought so...
By cathodeflux on 4/18/2008 11:52:54 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah...I had a feeling this story was a little off last week, especially after I foundt this tid-bit on their site. Scroll down the page and you can see it in big bold letters

"SWORDS Robots

Editor's Note, April 14, 2008: Contrary to what you may have read on other web sites, three SWORDS robots are still deployed in Iraq and have been there for almost a year of uninterrupted service.

There have been no instances of uncommanded or unexpected movements by SWORDS robots during this period, whether in-theater or elsewhere. (A few years ago, during the robot's development, there were several minor movement issues that were expected, identified and addressed during rigorous stateside testing --prior to the Army's safety confirmation back in 2006. Any comments made after that timeframe about "setbacks" related to the robotics industry were hypothetical -- never in response to some nonexistent SWORDS incident after the safety confirmation.)"

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