A soldier’s best friend

There’s a great story on Wired about how the military is trying to develop robotic dogs:

Today’s soldiers carry as much as 100 pounds of equipment. That’s exhausting, even for the toughest grunt. In the future, the Army wants to dump up to half that gear onto the back of a drone. But military scientists are worried that robots with wheels won’t be able to follow their human masters across mountain passes, up stairs and through forest trails.

To make their way across that kind of terrain, the drones will need legs — maybe even four of them. So the Army’s Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, or TACOM, has just doled out $2.25 million to two robotics firms to prototype a big, mechanical dog capable of carrying ammunition, food and supplies into battle.

It reminds me of K9, the robotic dog who used to hang out with Doctor Who and get him out of jams. The really hilarious thing was that K9 was pretty much just a metal box that slid along the floor on a few hidden wheels, so technically it ought to have had all the mobility problems that the military is worried about. It shouldn’t have been able to handle rough terrain. But of course, this is sci fi!!! So whenever the Doctor would get in an adventure where he’d be racing through dense woods, or along on the scarred, rocky surface of a planet … sure enough, there’d be K9 bouncing improbably along, like a microwave oven being dragged across the bombed-out rubble of Baghdad.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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