|Wanna Make $652,000 USD?
A contest to build a robot that can operate autonomously in urban warfare conditions, moving in and out of buildings to search and destroy targets like a human soldier, was launched in Singapore on Tuesday.
The country's Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) is offering one million Singapore dollars ($652,000) to whoever develops a robot that completes a stipulated set of tasks – yet to be revealed – in the fastest time possible.
DSTA said individuals, companies, universities and research institutes are all welcome to participate in the contest, dubbed the TechX Challenge, although foreigners must collaborate with local partners.
"Operation in urban areas represents a significant challenge," DSTA chief executive Richard Lim said at the launch of the contest. "Recent military experiences in Iraq, the Middle East and other locations have clearly illustrated these challenges."
Currently, robots deployed for urban warfare missions are normally operated remotely by a human, tying up resources, Lim said. DSTA wants to create a robot that "must, on its own, be able to navigate both indoors and outdoors in an urban landscape and accomplish a set of assigned tasks within a stipulated time", he said.
This robot must be able to negotiate a staircase and use the elevator to dash from one floor to another without the aid of satellite navigation, which may not be available indoors.
Navigation without satellite help would require the robot "to have machine vision capabilities to identify visual cues along its intended path to serve as waypoints", Lim said.
Robert Richardson at the University of Manchester, UK, says the competition could present a major challenge to even the most sophisticated robot. He notes that robots can navigate through an "unrestricted urban environment", by building a virtual map of a 3D space with relative ease.
But Richardson adds that slightly more complex tasks, like opening a door or using an elevator, can present a huge problem. "How do you know which button goes where, or even what floor you're on?" he says. "It's very, very confusing." One solution, he says, is to train a robot by presenting it with hundreds of different doors and elevators.
Some defence experts say the fight against terrorism has made urban warfare increasingly common, and believe that high-tech weaponry could help minimise casualties.
Participants must submit their applications by the end of May 2007 and a shortlist of participants will be announced in June 2007. The robots will be tested in a qualifying round in May 2008 and a final round, in August 2008, will crown the robot warrior that can complete the assigned task in the fastest time.
I personally find this amazing. I still remember watching the Terminator Movie. The thought of an invincible Arnold hunting somebody down was both terrifying and fascinating at the same time. Now, very soon, such machines could become a reality. Imagine how that would change modern warfare as we know it!