Technology

Dancing, Karate-Chopping, Bomb-Defusing Robots

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The US military is using specialized robots to disarm improvised explosive devices. With the bots providing such an important use, perhaps it's not surprising that the soldiers can get attached to the little life-savers:

"Sometimes they get a little emotional over it," Bogosh says. "Like having a pet dog. It attacks the IEDs, comes back, and attacks again. It becomes part of the team, gets a name. They get upset when anything happens to one of the team. They identify with the little robot quickly. They count on it a lot in a mission."

The bots even show elements of "personality," Bogosh says. "Every robot has its own little quirks. You sort of get used to them. Sometimes you get a robot that comes in and it does a little dance, or a karate chop, instead of doing what it's supposed to do." The operators "talk about them a lot, about the robot doing its mission and getting everything accomplished." He remembers the time "one of the robots happened to get its tracks destroyed while doing a mission." The operators "duct-taped them back on, finished the mission and then brought the robot back" to a hero's welcome.

I would have scoffed at this reaction just two weeks ago, but I recently was at a friend's house where we watched a Roomba clean the floor for about half an hour. At one point it got itself jammed between a chair and a counter, and we were quickly emotionally drawn into the li'l guy's plight. It took the robot about 5 minutes to escape, at which time we celebrated. Heartily.

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