- By Sebastian Anthony on February 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm
DARPA, the bleeding-edge research wing of the United States Department of Defense, has revealed that it will spend millions of dollars on a project called “Avatar.” If you’ve seen the movie of the same name — the highest-grossing movie of all time — let me put your mind at rest: DARPA isn’t looking to genetically engineer blue-skinned aliens that humans can control; no, they’re developing robots.
In the words of DARPA itself, the Avatar program will work on “interfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bipedal machine and allow it to act as the soldier’s surrogate.” In other words, DARPA wants to develop the walking equivalent of an unarmed aerial vehicle; a bipedal robot drone where the controlling soldier is hundreds or thousands of miles away from war front.
If you’ve been following ExtremeTech for the last few months, you’re probably experiencing sweaty a mix of terror and excitement right now. This Avatar program isn’t some pipe dream: We already have the technology to pull it off. Remember Petman, the walking, kneeling, push-upping bipedal robot? Created by Boston Dynamics, the same company behind AlphaDog, Petman was advertised as a tool for testing chemical protection clothing — but really, it didn’t take a genius to imagine a weaponized version.
Then there’s the interface: A joystick and multi-monitor display would probably do the job, or, if you really wanted to become one with your robotic avatar, you could use a virtual reality visor and a suit with sensors and actuators. Brain-computer interfaces aren’t quite up to the resolution needed, but in the next couple of years they could be a viable option as well.
Really, with this $7 million investment into the Avatar program, DARPA has merely confirmed what we’ve speculated all along: robot soldiers are coming. There was simply no way that a robot like Petman would only be used to test clothing if there was a chance that it might save human lives in the field.
The only saving grace at this point is that DARPA dictates that these robot surrogates must be “semi-autonmous” and ultimately controlled by humans — in other words, Judgment Day at the hands of AI-controlled Cylons isn’t upon us… yet.