Autonomous robot patrols, a U.S. military vision since at least the 1980s, are increasingly being used around the world, reports New Scientist. Just this month, the Nevada National Security Site, announced the deployment of three such robots that will be guarding “radioactive waste and other nuclear materials.” The robo-sentries, built by the General Dynamics Robotics Systems of Westminster, Maryland, are cheaper than a network of CCTV cameras, say those who made the purchase. Israeli company G-Nius Unmanned Ground Systems and the South Korean company Samsung have also developed robot guards.
New Scientist informs us that the “big challenge” has been making the robots smart enough to tell real objects from shadows. That’s not especially encouraging, considering that the report also suggests that these sentries are also being designed with weapons-carrying abilities in mind. G-Nius’s “Guardium” robot can be outfitted with machine guns or non-lethal weapons, and Samsung’s “Techwin SGR-1” can be programmed to confront intruders and demand a certain password from them, firing at anyone who doesn’t say the magic words.
Scary stuff. The article quotes University of Sheffield robo-ethicist Noel Sharkey, who cautions, “Autonomous operation and target acquisition is only a very short step away from autonomous killing.” For the time being, though, we haven’t crossed that line. The Nevada nuclear robo-sentries have a lot of capabilities–lasers, radar, thermal imaging, a two-way audio link–but the only element approaching weaponry is a set of high-intensity strobe lights that can disorient an intruder until human help arrives.