Following President Bush's announcement last week that the U.S. would deploy an additional 20,000 troops in Iraq over the coming months, there has been a great deal of debate about the merits of this policy. The one thing everyone agrees on is that we need to do everything possible to protect the soldiers fighting on our behalf.
The other day, I came across a Newark Star-Ledger article that said that Foster-Miller is developing a gun-slinging robot capable of hitting a small target from about 875 yards -- a range better than that of the average soldier by almost 600 yards.
More interestingly, the article said there is a cultural shift within the Army between older and younger soldiers over the extent to which robots should be used in combat. Many of the veteran soldiers are "set in their ways" and are somewhat reluctant to use and train these robots. The younger soldiers, though, are enthusiastically embracing them.
And why not? I ask. Not only can robots do dangerous jobs -- such as crawl into terrorist hideouts or caves in Afghanistan -- they also have the added benefit of allowing the soldier to control the device from a safe distance. As one soldier said, this sure beats "stand(ing) in 130-degree heat with 100 pounds of armor and ammunition" and being exposed to enemy fire.
It's further proof that it's just a matter of time before getting used to such robots converges with the political realities of generals and politicians not wanting to put our soldiers in risky situations to considerably increase the robots used in actual combat. When this happens, it will be good news for companies specializing in military robots, such as Foster-Miller, iRobot
Robo-doctors and robo-builders
A couple of other articles I recently perused said that the robots of the future will not only be warriors capable of taking lives and destroying things; they will be equally capable of saving lives and building things.
For example, doctors in South Korea are using robots to help train medical students to bring babies into the world. The robots, which are built by Gaumard Scientific, are very lifelike and can mimic a real birth. They are needed because the birth rate is so low in South Korea that most young doctors there aren't getting a chance to observe, let alone practice, the delivery of a real baby.
And according to an article from Sunday's London Times, two teams (one in the U.S. and the other in England) are constructing robots that build homes. At first, the notion of a robot building a home struck me as ludicrous. But then the article pointed out that certain robots could build homes 200 times faster than a construction crew and that robots can often fashion together architectural designs that today's best craftsmen can't handle.
If robots can do jobs that people are either unwilling or unavailable to do, or they can do certain jobs faster, it's hard to dismiss the possibility that they have a promising future. To this point, a professor then added this opinion. He said, "Your shoes, clothes, and car are already made automatically, but your house is built by hand and it doesn't make sense."
And although I am sure it will take society some time to get there, I think he's right. It doesn't make sense. Nor does it make sense to send soldiers into dangerous conditions or for doctors not to train on robotic mannequins when that's all that is available to them.
The tipping point is nearing for robots, and a number of companies including Microsoft
Interested in other robotic Foolishness? Check out these articles:
- Small Visions of the Future
- Robots on the Brain
- Only the Swarmanoid Survive
- Are Intuitive Surgical and iRobot Just Babies?
What will they think of next? A free trial to Rule Breakers gives you a chance to chat with other investors and our analysts about the technologies that will change our lives and help our portfolios. iRobot is a Rule Breakers recommendation, and Microsoft is an Inside Value pick.