May 2013

Hacking the Drone War’s Secret History

A 28-year-old grad student has created the key to hacking drone-strike data.


New Drone Strike Undercuts Obama’s Promises on Robot War

Obama seemed to say last week that U.S. drones are out of the business of killing militants who aren’t senior al-Qaida leaders. Then he killed a Pakistani Taliban leader this morning.


Holder: We’ve Droned 4 Americans, 3 by Accident. Oops.

For the first time, the Obama administration has acknowledged killing four Americans in drone strikes — three of whom were killed accidentally.


Navy’s High-Flying Spy Drone Completes Its First Flight

This is the Navy’s MQ-4C Triton, its next-generation surveillance drone. It just flew its first flight test out in California. And it wants to scan 2,000 miles of ocean at once.


International Arms Manufacturers Tap into Growing Drone Market

05/30/13 — On a sprawling complex just outside Pretoria, South Africa, a government-owned arms manufacturer is preparing to test an armed drone that it hopes to begin selling soon to governments around the world. The company, Denel Dynamics, says the armed version of the Seeker 400, which will carry two laser-guided missiles, will enable so-called opportunistic targeting at a range of up to about 155 miles. These are not combat systems, they are foremost reconnaissance systems,” Sello Ntsihlele, executive manager of UAV systems for Denel, told NBC News. He added: “(But if) you speak to any general, show him the capability, he…


Brazilian Government Places $7.2M Order for Security Robots

05/23/13 — The Brazilian government says some of the security robots bought to improve public safety during the 2014 World Cup will be ready for the Confederations Cup in June. The company iRobot says the 30 robots would be delivered by the end of the year, along with spares and other support gear. The government confirmed Thursday that some will already be in action in the six cities hosting Confederations Cup matches. The company said Brazil signed a $7.2 million contract, which included the small unmanned ground vehicles which can provide surveillance, bomb removal and other law-enforcement missions. The Confederations Cup is…


The Real Impact of Robotics on the Defense Budget

05/09/13 — Given the tremendous advancements taking place in the field of robotics right now, the increased use of robot soldiers by the Pentagon seems all but inevitable — drastically altering the way the United States wages war. But the rise of robots will have an even broader impact on the way the…


This Week’s Military News:

The Robot Report, Posted 05/15/13 at 06:00 AM

… The Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned aircraft made its first aircraft carrier launch this week. Two days later they spent the whole day doing touch-and-go take-offs and landings.
… The US Navy’s Naval Research Lab (NRL) flew a UAV for 48 hours, breaking a fuel-cell-for-flight record. The UAV was powered by a liquid hydrogen fuel in a cryogenic fuel storage tank and delivery system.
… In the UK, two pilots didn’t have anything to do as their BAE Systems passenger aircraft flew a unmanned flight from Lancashire to Inverness, Scotland which was controlled by a pilot in Warton using advanced sensors and on-board robotic systems.
… iRobot’s SUGV’s will be getting a new “batwing” fix which adds a collapsable hook that affixes to a telescoping pole to better examine IEDs.
… In Saskatoon, Canada, RC Mounties launched a Draganflyer UAS equipped with FLIR forward-looking infrared, to find and save the life of a disoriented man in a field on a cold night.


The increasingly autonomous robots of war (pictures)

May 31, 2013, 1:48 PM | By James Martin

Robots used for military missions are becoming increasingly autonomous — and many of these autonomous machines will soon be armed.


April 2013

Autonomous military robots should be banned, group says (video)

Apr 26, 2013, 5:47 AM | By Luke Westaway

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots tells CNET why lethal machines must remain under human control, for humanity’s sake.


DARPA robot hand picks up keys, 50-pound weights

May 01, 2013, 2:34 PM | By Tim Hornyak

The robotic hand is durable enough to survive being hit with a baseball bat and, at $3,000 apiece, is relatively cheap.


For the First Time, Brits Launch Drone Strike From Home

By Robert Beckhusen, 05.02.13

There was a time when all the world’s military drone strikes were directed from a small base in Nevada. No more. In a first, the United Kingdom has carried out a strike in Afghanistan by pilots controlling the drone from within Britain. The nature of the strike is unclear. The Ministry of Defence said it “does not discuss details of specific missions for operational security reasons,” according to a statement obtained by Flight, which reported the strike was carried out Tuesday by an armed Royal Air Force MQ-9 Reaper — most likely launched from Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. The ministry merely confirmed that one of its Reaper drones, controlled by pilots from the Royal Air Force’s 13 Squadron at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire fired a weapon “supporting U.K. forces on the ground in Afghanistan.”


Welcome to the Age of Big Drone Data

By Spencer Ackerman, 04.25.13

Lt. Gen. Larry D. James has about all the drone designs he needs. James is the Air Force’s deputy chief for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, giving him the flying service’s drone portfolio. During a rare public talk yesterday in Washington, James let on that “sustainment” of the drone fleet is his next big task. That means focusing less on designing new robots, as the Air Force’s new budget indicates, and more on the human problem of managing the absolutely enormous amount of data that its Predators, Reapers, Global Hawks and Sentinels generate. “The future is going to be taking all sources of information and developing knowledge and intelligence from that,” James said. He’s working on some software fixes for that, as well as some data-storage farms. Welcome to the age of Big Drone Data.


DARPA Reveals Shark Sub-Hunting Robot

Posted 5 Apr 2013

DARPA issued a news release today with some photos of the Phase II prototypes for the SHARK (Submarine Hold At RisK) UUV ( (unmanned underwater vehicle). The robot is designed for Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting (DASH), which is DOD acronym-speak for a distributed active sonar system which can track hard to detect silent submarines. The SHARK is built from commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) parts to help reduce the cost. SHARK works with another platform known as TRAPS (Transformational Reliable Acoustic Path System), which is a passive sonar detector platform that will be stationed at a fixed location. When a submarine triggers the TRAPS system, a SHARK is dispatched to locate and track the submarine. From the news release: “The goal is not only to show we can address the most challenging problem in ASW [anti-submarine warfare], but that we can do so with systems that are scalable and affordable,” said Andy Coon, DARPA program manager. “A single deep sea node provides a field of view with significant coverage allowing for a limited number of nodes to scale to large areas. Within the trade space of deep ocean sonar, we need to get creative to achieve affordable hardware and operations. We purposely have avoided increasing the size and complexity of arrays to achieve our aims. This is a gamble, but we believe the potential payoff will be high.”


Northrop Grumman Launches CUTLASS, Next Generation Unmanned Ground Vehicle

04/23/13 — LONDON, April 19, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) has launched CUTLASS, its latest generation unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), expanding its range of industry-leading capabilities in unmanned systems for the remote handling and surveillance of hazardous threats. CUTLASS has been designed, developed and manufactured by Northrop Grumman in the U.K., and includes significant advances in technology and performance and a range of features that provides state-of-the-art capabilities for national security and resilience applications. “Our CUTLASS vehicle is setting new standards in the UGV market and significantly enhancing the ability of users to handle hazardous threats safely. It is more dexterous, cost effective and, as a…


March 2013

Active military robots around the world

by Ioannis K. Erripis, March 15, 2013

This is a brief presentation of some of the most widely used robots (or remotely controlled, semi-autonomous systems) from militaries around the world. There are numerous other projects that are currently under development and others that are either abandoned or replaced but here only systems that are currently under use are mentioned.


How will robots shape the future of warfare?

by RBI Editors , March 15, 2013

Updated March 17, 2013 | This month we’ve asked our experts to weigh in on the future of robotics in warfare, and the broadness of this topic has prompted some of our panelists to push back and request that the question be rephrased in narrower terms. Certainly there are many sides to this question, and we plan to tease them out in future RBIs. However, we think it’s important to begin with broad strokes, and so we leave it to our panelists to weigh in, each from their own perspective.


Navy robot jellyfish is as big as a person

Apr 02, 2013, 11:45 AM | By Amanda Kooser

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, the Navy and Virginia Tech unveil a robotic jellyfish that looks like it could swallow a seal.


Small drone spotted dangerously close to jet over NYC

Mar 05, 2013, 3:07 PM | By Eric Mack

Jet pilot reports the small, unmanned craft came within 200 feet as the Alitalia flight made its approach into JFK airport.


CMU Snake Robots Can Now Strangle Things on Contact

Evan Ackerman  /  Thu, March 21, 2013

See this little guy smirking at you? Want to know how he got up there? A word of advice: as of right now, do not stand anywhere near a snake robot while looking like a tree, because these things will now fly right at you and go for your throat.


One of These ‘Bots Will Be the Navy’s Next Killer Drone

David Axe, 03.27.13

The Navy’s future robotic air wing is taking shape. On Tuesday, the sailing branch announced that it will pay four companies to hand over the technical specs for their various designs for the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike system (UCLASS), a stealthy, jet-powered killer drone meant to operate off an aircraft carrier and fly alongside the latest manned fighters. The move clears the way for the Navy to pick one of the four designs to form the backbone of one of the most ambitious drone efforts ever.


Video: Robo-Chopper Dives and Grabs Objects Like a Bird of Prey

Robert Beckhusen, 03.19.13

Swooping down like a mechanized bird of prey comes the latest nightmare fuel from the robotics researchers at the University of Pennsylvania: a motorized claw attached to a drone that can grab objects and carry them away. In a recent video, the university’s GRASP team — for General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception — show an AscTec Hummingbird quadrotor drone diving onto a cylinder and snatching it with a gripper claw before flying away. Taking a cue from how eagles work, the researchers believe that diving drones can make for drones that weigh less and use less power, using acceleration velocity gained from diving to quickly regain altitude. It may even be possible to build drones that perch. The drone is certainly lightweight enough: the quadrotor and the gripper-claw combined weigh less than a pound and a half.


Russian Engineers Focused on Robots for Combat Surveillance

03/27/13 — Russian engineers, based at the Central Research Institute of Robotics and Technical Cybernetics (RTC) in St. Petersburg, are developing an integrated control system for a group of combat robots.  It includes various robotic platforms for transportation and surveillance purposes — for example, carrying weapons or monitoring levels of contamination. According to a leading expert at the RTC, this is not just “a dumb, radio-controlled robot able to carry out behavioral algorithms independently.” But it is not real artificial intelligence (AI), either. Rather, it is an algorithm that helps the operator to control the device, the expert emphasizes. Particular attention is…


The future of drones in America: Law enforcement and privacy considerations

by CIS Blog , March 25, 2013

Last week the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary heard from witnesses Benjamin Miller, Amie Stepanovich, Michael Tosocano and Prof. Ryan Calo on “The Future of Drones in America: Law Enforcement and Privacy Considerations.”


February 2013

DHS built domestic surveillance tech into Predator drones

Mar 02, 2013, 11:30 AM | By Declan McCullagh

Homeland Security’s specifications say drones must be able to detect whether a civilian is armed. Also specified: “signals interception” and “direction finding” for electronic surveillance.


Teeny Tiny Microcopter Deploys to Afghanistan With British Troops

POSTED BY: Evan Ackerman  /  Tue, February 05, 2013

It’s hard to tell how tiny this helicopter is from the above pic. But it’s damn tiny. It’s only four inches long (about 10 centimeters), and weighs just 16 grams, but will happily carry a pan-and-tilt camera that streams video back to a base station. It’s called the Black Hornet, and it’s . . . adorable.

Texas Declares War on Robots

Posted 28 Feb 2013

There’s growing privacy concern over flying robots, or “drones”. Organizations like the EFF and ACLU have been raising the alarm over increased government surveillance of US citizens. Legislators haven’t been quick to respond to concerns of government spying on citizens. But Texas legislators are apparently quite concerned that private citizens operating hobby drones might spot environmental violations by businesses. You may recall the story from 2012 in which a hobbyist operating a small UAV over public land in Dallas, TX accidentally photographed a Dallas meat-packing plant illegally dumping pig blood into the Trinity river, resulting in an EPA indictment. Representative Lance Gooden has introduced HB912 to solve this “problem”. But the badly worded bill could also outlaw most outdoor hobby and STEM robotics activities, stop university robotics research programs, endanger commercial robotics R&D, and end many common commercial uses of robots such as commercial aerial photography. What exactly does the bill outlaw?


DIY Drone-Proofing: Militants Use Carpet, Grass Mats, Mud to Hide From Robots

Spencer Ackerman, 02.21.13

What’s the simplest way to evade a $4.5 million armed, flying robot? Get some grass mats. Or smear your car with mud. After hundreds of strikes over four drone-intensive years, al-Qaida is starting to pass around notes on cheap countermeasures militants can take to evade detection by the robots’ sensors. The longer the militants can delay the CIA or the U.S. military from obtaining a positive identification, the thinking goes, the less likely a strike becomes. Step one: Disguise your car. The advice comes from a xeroxed printout found in Timbuktu by the Associated Press shortly after Islamist militants fighting the French in Mali vacated the area. Taken from jihadi forums online and adapted, one recommendation for simple drone-proofing was to drape a car carrying militants with carpets so the cameras on a drone, thousands of feet up in the sky, might be fooled.


Domestic-Drone Industry Prepares for Big Battle With Regulators

Spencer Ackerman, 02.13.13

For a day, a sandy-haired Virginian named Jeremy Novara was the hero of the nascent domestic drone industry. Novara went to the microphone at a ballroom in a Ritz-Carlton outside Washington, D.C. on Wednesday and did something many in his business want to do: tenaciously challenge the drone regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration to loosen restrictions on unmanned planes over the United States. Judging from the reaction he received, and from the stated intentions of the drone advocates who convened the forum, the domestic-drone industry expects to do a lot more of that in the coming months. There’s been a lot of hype around unmanned drones becoming a fixture over U.S. airspace, both for law enforcement use and for operations by businesses as varied as farmers and filmmakers. All have big implications for traditional conceptions of privacy, as unmanned planes can loiter over people’s backyards and snap pictures for far longer than piloted aircraft. The government is anticipating that drone makers could generate a windfall of cash as drones move from a military to a civilian role: Jim Williams of the Federal Aviation Administration told the Wednesday conclave of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) that the potential market for government and commercial drones could generate “nearly $90 billion in economic activity” over the next decade. $90 billion.


5 Homeland Security ‘Bots Coming to Spy on You (If They Aren’t Already)

Robert Beckhusen, 02.08.13

It’s been 10 years since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) started up operations. During that decade, DHS has moved to the forefront of funding and deploying the robots and drones that could be coming soon to a neighborhood near you. DHS funds research and development for surveillance robots. It provides grant money by the hundreds of thousands to police agencies to buy their own. And sometimes it’s bought and deployed robots — for their skies, the ground and the waters — of its own, usually concentrated along the border. It’s not clear how many of those robots police operate, and law enforcement isn’t by any means the only domestic market for the ‘bots. But the trend lines point toward more robotic spy tools for law enforcement in more places — with more DHS cash. But it’s not going to be simple. The Federal Aviation Administration is cautious about opening the skies to unmanned vehicles — so much so that Congress and the Obama administration ordered it to ease up on restrictions by 2015. But not all spy robots fly. DHS is also developing robots that resemble fish, and deploys tunnel-bots deep into drug-smuggling tunnels along the border.


U.S. Navy Wants Robots that Respond to Pheromones

02/07/13 — Aircraft carrier crews are likely to get rather pungent as they perform the hard tasks of assembling, loading and hauling the massive weaponry that gives the U.S. Navy its edge. To make their lives easier, the Navy’s exploring the idea of developing a “robotic semiautonomous swarm on a ship” that…


Attack of the Drones: The Worrying Automation of Warfare

Washington College Elm-Mar 1, 2013

Troubling as the use of drones is, I believe it to be indicative of a larger trend that shows no signs of abating anytime soon: the automation of warfare.



January 2013

MeCam Is a $50 Camera-Equipped Autonomous Nano Quadrotor, Supposedly

Evan Ackerman  /  Mon, January 28, 2013

At first glance, MeCam looks like it belongs in a research lab. It’s a palm-sized quadrotor packing enough sensors to make it capable of autonomous flight, as well as a camera that can stream video to your smartphone. It can follow you around all by itself, shooting video of your life (or anything else you tell it to), and supposedly, it’ll be available as soon as 2014 for as little as $50.


Parrot Adds GPS and Partial Autonomy to AR Drone, Shows Off SenseFly UAV

Erico Guizzo  /  Wed, January 16, 2013

We’re huge fans of the AR Drone, not just because it’s dirt cheap and a huge amount of fun, and also not just because it’s actually being used for serious research, but because we love how Parrot just keeps on making it better year after year. At CES last week, they showed us a bunch of upgrades along the path to autonomy, along with their newest toy: a camera equipped eBee UAV from SenseFly.


U.N. Drone Investigator: If Facts Lead to U.S. War Crimes, So Be It

Spencer Ackerman, 01.29.13

Ben Emmerson wants to be clear: He’s not out to ban flying killer robots used by the CIA or the U.S. military. But the 49-year-old British lawyer is about to become the bane of the drones’ existence, thanks to the United Nations inquiry he launched last week into their deadly operations. Emmerson, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for human rights and counterterrorism, will spend the next five months doing something the Obama administration has thoroughly resisted: unearthing the dirty secrets of a global counterterrorism campaign that largely relies on rapidly proliferating drone technology. Announced on Thursday in London, it’s the first international inquiry into the drone program, and one that carries the imprimatur of the world body. By the next session of the United Nations in the fall, Emmerson hopes to provide the General Assembly with an report on 25 drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Palestine where civilian deaths are credibly alleged.


U.S. Drones Pound Pakistan

By Spencer Ackerman, 01.10.13

Make that seven U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan during the first 10 days of 2013. But the recent uptick in drone strikes hasn’t yet coincided with a resurgence in Pakistani outrage that marred Washington’s relationship with Islamabad in 2012. At least five people are dead in a drone strike near Mir Ali, in North Waziristan, launched on Thursday. That makes seven drone strikes in Pakistan since 2013 began, with an estimated death toll, according to Danger Room’s tally, of at least 40 people. (One of the strikes on Tuesday killed a “key al-Qaida commander” named Sheikh Yasin al-Kuwaiti, the Long War Journal reports.) By contrast, in 2012, the U.S. launched 43 drone strikes in Pakistan, with an average pause of between 7 and 8 days between them. Even beyond the drones, Thursday was a violent day in Pakistan: A pair of bombings in Baluchistan left at least 32 people dead and more than 100 wounded.


Bluefin Robotics Completes Custom Knifefish Design for Naval Research Laboratory

01/31/13 — Renowned underwater-robotics manufacturer, Bluefin Robotics, has announced it will produce a variation of its Knifefish UUV (unmanned underwater vehicle) for the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). The Knifefish model is a specialized Bluefin-21 UUV, and will be developed for the Surface Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Underwater Vehicle program. Bluefin is under subcontract (#N00173-10-C-6008) withGeneral Dynamics (News – Alert) Advanced Information Systems, and will leverage and deliver the finished system to the NRL within the next few months. Bluefin just completed the preliminary design review of the Knifefish model earlier this month, and is positive about the outcome. “We are pleased that we are able to easily adapt the…


WSU Unveils Autonomous Underwater Vehicle with Robotic Gripper at RoboSub Competition

The students at Washington State University (WSU) have finished building a self-operated robotic submarine that has been entered into the 16th annual International RoboSub Competition in San Diego. The yearly competition is hosted by both the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the U.S. Office of Naval Research.


December 2012

Berkeley May Create First ‘No Drone Zone’ in U.S.

12/26/12 — The city of Berkeley, Calif., this week took the first steps toward a ban on drones as the autonomous aircraft deployed in the war on terrorism are being embraced for local law enforcement. The debate over creating a No Drone Zone in this famously left-wing stronghold is likely to be repeated across the U.S. as ever-smaller drones equipped with high-definition cameras and sensors take to the skies with the ability to collect vast amounts of data on citizens. While the Federal Aviation Administration is drafting rules for the deployment of drones in domestic airspace the use of drones to collect…

Get ready: Drones will come to Bay Area – SFGate

Chip Johnson, Chronicle Columnist, Updated 11:22 am, Tuesday, December 18, 2012

If everything goes according to plan, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office will soon have a drone, a small unmanned aircraft, to aid with crowd control, search-and-rescue missions and other law enforcement duties that could use a set of eyes in the air.Think of it as the newest tool for law enforcement. Not surprisingly, not everyone is happy about this. The chief concern of critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, is that the drones threaten the privacy rights of everyday citizens. The Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission went as far as to propose a ban, a “No Drone Zone” in Berkeley airspace for all but hobbyists. But despite the commission’s stern stance, in the not-too-distant future the skies above American cities will host unmanned flying vehicles.

Alameda County puts the brakes on purchasing drone

By Angela Woodall, Oakland TribunePosted:   12/04/2012

Outcry from privacy advocates prompted Alameda County Board of Supervisors to postpone or possibly scrap plans to purchase a surveillance drone for the Sheriff’s Office.Last minute intervention Tuesday morning by the American Civil Liberties Union prompted supervisors to require explicit authorization to use grant money the Sheriff’s Office received to purchase the drone. Now the proposal will have to go to the public protection committee for approval then back to the full board of supervisors. That is likely to happen early next year. Concern has been mounting among privacy groups for months that Sheriff Greg Ahern was forging ahead without rules for deploying a drone in the skies above Alameda County. The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation are concerned about the lack of privacy protections. They were dismayed to find that the Sheriff’s Office was asking the supervisors on Tuesday to approve a $31,646 grant to help pay for a drone, indicating that the department was far closer to acquisition than they had led the public to believe.


Japanese Security Firm to Start Renting Surveillance Drones

Evan Ackerman  /  Fri, December 28, 2012

We know, it’s Friday. And usually, we post a whole bunch o’ videos on Fridays, but since we’ve done that for two out of our last three posts (!), we figured we’d give you a bit of a break. Instead, we’ve got this little quadrotor from Japan that’s trying to be the next level of paranoia in private security.


DoD Issues New Directive on Use of Autonomous Drones

12/05/12 — The U.S. Defense Department has issued a new directive on the use of autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems, an attempt to regulate a technology that officials say could be years from becoming reality. The directive, released Nov. 27, is focused on systems that can select and engage targets without the…


New Commercial Aerial Drone Introduced

Posted 10/09/12 at 05:17 PM

senseFly, a Swiss start-up, launched their new eBee aerial photography drone with funding from a recent equity investment by Parrot (of AR.Drone quadcopter fame). With it’s 3’ wingspan the eBee can fly for 45 minutes in up to 25 mph winds.
… Two kinds of software drive the eBee: one to create a flight path and the other to turn the 2D geotagged images into 3d maps and reports.
Two videos explain the process.


Obama’s New Year’s Resolution: More Drone Strikes

By Spencer Ackerman, 01.03.13

It’s barely three days into 2013, and the Obama administration’s lethal campaign of drone strikes has resumed in earnest. Missiles fired by remotely piloted planes struck targets in Pakistan and Yemen three times in the past several hours, killing several people, including two prominent militant commanders. In Pakistan’s South Waziristan province, at least 4 MQ-1 Predators or MQ-9 Reapers operated by the CIA killed a Pakistani Taliban commander, Maulvi Nazir, according to media reports that cite unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials. Nazir had struck a detente with the Pakistani government but, according to drone watcher Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal, maintained ties to al-Qaida and attacked U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The drones fired on Nazir’s vehicle, killing him and at least five others.


Navy Preps to Build a Robot Ship That Blows Up Mines

By Spencer Ackerman, 01.03.13

The Navy’s next wave of robots will take on one of the most dangerous missions on the open water: destroying mines. Anti-mine warfare is a critical mission for the Navy, as nations like Iran can mess with the global economy just by threatening to plant mines in crucial commercial waterways. But the tools that the Navy has to disable mines have a crucial weakness: they depend on humans getting too close to them for comfort. When it comes to blowing up, or “sweeping” mines, explains Navy Capt. Duane Ashton, “There’s a saying: ‘Hunt if you can, sweep if you must.’”


Pentagon Looks to Fix ‘Pervasive Vulnerability’ in Drones

By Noah Shachtman, Monday, December 31

Drones may be at the center of the U.S. campaign to take out extremists around the globe. But there’s a “pervasive vulnerability” in the robotic aircraft, according to the Pentagon’s premier science and technology division — a weakness the drones share with just about every car, medical device and power plant on the planet. The control algorithms for these crucial machines are written in a fundamentally insecure manner, says Dr. Kathleen Fisher, a Tufts University computer scientist and a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. There’s simply no systematic way for programmers to check for vulnerabilities as they put together the software that runs our drones, our trucks or our pacemakers.


Here’s How Darpa’s Robot Ship Will Hunt Silent Subs

By Spencer Ackerman, Thursday, December 27

Submariners like to say there are two kinds of ships: subs and targets. The Pentagon’s futurists want to turn that on its head, with a new kind of robotic surface ship that can pinpoint a sub.


Meet the Grabby, Sugar-Fueled Robots the Navy Wants to Put in Space

By Spencer Ackerman, Wednesday, December 26

They’re grabby. They use microbes as fuel. They’re the robots the Navy wants to send to outer space.


Air Force May Be Developing Stealth Drones in Secret

By David Axe, 12.08.12

The Air Force’s multi-billion-dollar drone fleets may have helped against the insurgents of Iraq and Afghanistan. But in a fight against a real military like China’s, the relatively defenseless unmanned aerial vehicles would get shot down in a second. So once again, the air will belong to traditional, manned bombers and fighters able to survive the sophisticated air defenses. At least that’s the Air Force’s official position. Secretly, however, the flying branch could be working on at least two new high-tech UAVs optimized for the most intensive future air wars. Ace aviation reporter Bill Sweetman has gathered evidence of new stealth drones under development by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman — the latter potentially armed, and both drawing on classified funds. If these robots are real, the Air Force’s drone era is not only not ending — it’s barely begun.


2012 Was the Year of the Drone in Afghanistan

By Spencer Ackerman, 12.06.12

The soldiers and marines are packing their bags. The pilots are sitting on the tarmac. But the armed robotic planes are busier than they’ve ever been: Revised U.S. military statistics show a much, much larger drone war in Afghanistan than anyone suspected. Last month, military stats revealed that the U.S. had launched some 333 drone strikes in Afghanistan thus far in 2012. That made Afghanistan the epicenter of U.S. drone attacks — not Pakistan, not Yemen, not Somalia. But it turns out those stats were off, according to revised ones released by the Air Force on Thursday morning. There have actually been 447 drone strikes in Afghanistan this year. That means drone strikes represent 11.5 percent of the entire air war — up from about 5 percent last year.


Navy Will Have to Wait Before Amassing Its Robo-Copter Fleet

By Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman, 12.04.12

The Navy talks about its drone helicopter the way Apple geeks gushed over the first-generation iPhone in 2007. The MQ-8 Fire Scout does it all, from hunting for drugs at sea to spotting insurgents over the battlefields of Afghanistan. But like that early iPhone, the Fire Scout is seriously buggy — so much so that the Defense Department has conceded it will be forced to seriously delay buying all the robocopters it wants. The Pentagon won’t even be able to evaluate how the Fire Scout has performed at sea and at war until December of next year – 19 months behind schedule. As a result, the system won’t reach its “initial operating capability,” a key measurement for weapons purchases, until June 2014; that’s a mark the Navy was supposed to hit last May, the Defense Department notes in a recent “selected acquisition report,” (.pdf) first obtained by InsideDefense. The decision whether to push ahead with full production of all 175 Fire Scouts has been similarly pushed back.


Watch the First Flight of Europe’s Killer Drone Prototype

By Spencer Ackerman, 12.03.12

This drone may have an awkward name. But several European governments think the nEUROn is their ticket to a future of flying killer robots. The video above shows the first flight of the nEUROn, a drone with a 41-foot wingspan and an empty weight of five tons, which on Saturday launched from France’s Istres air base. The takeoff of the stealthy, batwing-shaped drone, jointly developed by six European countries, was nearly a decade in the making, and tests will continue in France, Sweden and Italy for years to come. In fact, the nEURON won’t actually join any European air forces. Much like the U.S. Navy’s stealthy X-47B — which, as David Cenciotti of The Aviationist notes, the drone kinda resembles — it’s just a demonstrator aircraft, meant to show that European companies can successfully develop an attack-sized, stealthy unmanned plane. Concept proven, the follow-on aircraft will both evade radar and release air-to-ground missiles, the Euros hope, thereby putting them at the front of the pack in emerging drone technology. The U.S. has the only acknowledged stealth drones in existence, the X-47B and the mysterious RQ-170 Sentinel, although defense giant BAE Systems is developing an allegedly stealthy drone called the Taranis and photos on the internet indicate China, at the least, is working on stealthy drones called the Crossbow and the Wind Blade. (Iran also claims to be reverse-engineering an RQ-170 that it captured last year.)


Munster Police Use Robot To Investigate Deadly Domestic Dispute

CBS2 Chicago-15 hours ago

MUNSTER (CBS) — Police in Northwest Indiana are questioning a man suspected of beating his estranged wife to death, then holding police at bay outside the


Better the refusenik than the robot

Haaretz-Dec 26, 2012

Better the refusenik than the robot. ‘What will become of this country if everyone refuses orders?’ ask the hysteria-mongers. Unfortunately, soldiers of conscience

DARPA’s latest footage of LS3 robodog astounds

News – Dec 20, 2012, 4:39 PM | By Christopher MacManus

DARPA researchers continue to add new functionality to the four-legged robot originally developed by Boston Dynamics.


November 2012

Robocod: Homeland Security adds underwater drones to their arsenal with robots based on fish

29 Nov 2012 Meet Robocod, the latest weapon in Homeland Security’s increasingly high-tech underwater arsenal, a robotic fish designed to safeguard the coastline of America and bring ‘justice’ to the deep. Well almost. The new robot, named BioSwimmer, is actually based not on a cod but a tuna which is said to have the ideal natural shape for an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV). Its ultra-flexible body coupled with mechanical fins and tail allow it to dart around the water just like a real fish even in the harshest of environments. Thanks to CLG <http://www.legitgov.org/#breaking_news> for bringing this story to my attention.


Robotic explorers may usher in lunar ‘water rush’

Nanowerk LLC-Nov 18, 2012It wouldn’t surprise lunar researchers to find cases of all three as robotic “The beauty of sending a robot is they don’t demand a return ticket,” Thornton said.

Navy Preps Killer Drone for First Carrier Launch

David Axe, 11.30.12

While China conducts, and celebrates, the first jet takeoffs and landings on its new aircraft carrier Liaoning, the U.S. Navy is aiming to do even better. In a parallel series of tests this week, the sailing branch has taken huge steps towards deploying the first carrier-based robotic warplane.


Pentagon: A Human Will Always Decide When a Robot Kills You

Spencer Ackerman, 11.26.12

The Pentagon wants to make perfectly clear that every time one of its flying robots releases its lethal payload, it’s the result of a decision made by an accountable human being in a lawful chain of command. Human rights groups and nervous citizens fear that technological advances in autonomy will slowly lead to the day when robots make that critical decision for themselves. But according to a new policy directive issued by a top Pentagon official, there shall be no SkyNet, thank you very much. Here’s what happened while you were preparing for Thanksgiving: Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter signed, on November 21, a series of instructions to “minimize the probability and consequences of failures” in autonomous or semi-autonomous armed robots “that could lead to unintended engagements,” starting at the design stage (.pdf, thanks to Cryptome.org). Translated from the bureaucrat, the Pentagon wants to make sure that there isn’t a circumstance when one of the military’s many Predators, Reapers, drone-like missiles or other deadly robots effectively automatizes the decision to harm a human being.


How Israeli Drone Pilots Made Their Life-and-Death Choices Over Gaza

Noah Shachtman, 11.22.12

JERUSALEM — The man was a few seconds from an all-but-certain death, when Gil told everyone to call off the airstrike. This was Sunday. Gil, a captain in the Israeli Air Force, was sitting in a green-painted metal box on the Palmahim Air Base, south of Tel Aviv. In front of him was a joystick and a set of screens. They showed footage of a Gaza slum, taken by an unarmed Israeli spy drone with an infrared sensor. Gil had the sensor display a dark shade for heat. Which gave the images on Gil’s screen an inverted feel; white was black, and black was white. The man, Gil’s superior officers told him, was a known Hamas terrorist. The neighborhood, a militant haven. So when the black blotch of a man stepped out into the alley, and began to fiddle with dark strings that looked suspiciously like wires, Gil’s Colonel gave the order to a second aircraft, flying nearby: Take this man out. He’s setting up a booby trap for our soldiers.


Military Stats Reveal Epicenter of U.S. Drone War

Noah Shachtman, 11.09.12

Forget Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and all the other secret little warzones. The real center of the U.S. drone campaign is in plain sight — on the hot and open battlefield of Afghanistan. The American military has launched 333 drone strikes this year in Afghanistan. That’s not only the highest total ever, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. It’s essentially the same number of robotic attacks in Pakistan since the CIA-led campaign there began nearly eight years ago. In the last 30 days, there have been three reported strikes in Yemen. In Afghanistan, that’s just an average day’s worth of remotely piloted attacks. And the increased strikes come as the rest of the war in Afghanistan is slowing down.


Underwater Robots Know Where They’re Going

Tekla Perry  /  Fri, November 30, 2012

Twisty underwater ravines and seas with moving icebergs provide tricky terrain for an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to navigate; that’s why underwater vehicles sent to investigate such areas rely on remote piloting from shipboard. That won’t be necessary for much longer, according to engineers from Stanford University’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). They have developed a system that allows an AUV to consider both an existing terrain map and its own view of obstacles in its path as it “flies” over the sea floor.


4 More Drones! Robot Attacks Are on Deck for Obama’s Next Term

Spencer Ackerman, 11.07.12

When Barack Obama took office, drone strikes were a once-in-a-while thing, with an attack every week or two. Now, they’re the centerpiece of a global U.S. counterterrorism campaign. Obama institutionalized the strikes to the point where he could hand off to the next president an efficient bureaucratic process for delivering death-by-robot practically on autopilot. Only now he’s the next president. Welcome to Obama’s second-term agenda for dealing with the world. As the Ramones sang: second verse, same as the first.


U.S. Navy Ramps Up Robot Deployment in the Persian Gulf

11/15/12 — The United States Navy is rushing more of the newest unmanned mine-clearing technology to the Persian Gulf while creating two new sets of crews to operate minesweepers in the region, Navy officials said Wednesday. The effort is intended to balance a renewed American emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region while sustaining…


Navy Test-Fires Missiles from Robot Boats

11/08/12 — U.S. Navy ships face the growing threat of small boat swarms used by terrorists, pirates or enemy countries. New testing has shown off a possible counter that looks strangely similar except for the lack of human sailors — small robot boats armed with missiles. The Navy launched six missiles from…


Human Rights Groups Fight Killer Robots

21 Nov 2012

We’ve posted more stories on robot ethics over the years than I can count. The general public and lawmakers still seem ignorant of the issues and even many roboticists still seem unclear on the import of autonomous robots that can make the decision of when to kill and who to kill without a human in the loop at all. But each day we come closer to having fully autonomous war robots. Some researchers, like Ronald Arkin, believe we can create robots that fight only for us and kill only in an ethical fashion. Other researchers, like Noel Sharkey, have warned that we shouldn’t build autonomous weapons and that, if we do, they will eventually be copied and turned on us as well. A good comparison of Arkin’s and Sharkey’s views can be found in Part 1 and Part 2 of the Robots podcast on Robot Ethics. The latest development in this area is the publication of a 50-page report by Human Rights Watch called Losing Humanity: The Case against Killer Robots (PDF format). From the report:

Based on the threats fully autonomous weapons would pose to civilians, Human Rights Watch and IHRC make the following recommendations, which are expanded on at the end of this report:

  • Prohibit the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons through an international legally binding instrument.

  • Adopt national laws and policies to prohibit the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.

  • Commence reviews of technologies and components that could lead to fully autonomous weapons. These reviews should take place at the very beginning of the development process and continue throughout the development and testing phases.



Human Rights Watch is Apparently Terrified of Military Robots, But You Shouldn’t Be

Evan Ackerman  /  Wed, November 28, 2012

Human Rights Watch, an international organization that advocates for human rights around the world, published a report about a week ago warning against the development of autonomous armed robots and suggesting that they be preemptively banned by international treaty. We’re unashamedly pro-robot around here, but this is an issue that I do take very seriously, and there are some good reasons why I think that attempting to ban autonomous armed robots is a mistake.


October 2012

U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan Fueled by Automation

November 1, 2012

For military operations around the globe, one of the biggest logistics challenges is to manage critical fuel resources. Building a fuel transfer system for the Bagram Air Force Base (AFB), a U.S. military operation about 40 miles north of Kabul, Afghanistan, posed a greater than normal number of challenges. The equipment must withstand unforgiving surroundings, from a mountainous terrain to a harsh climate that is hot and dry in summer and cold and wet in winter. Pendant Automation was tapped to meet these challenges by designing a fuel transfer system with16 diesel storage tanks and 30 generator day tanks. The control system had to automatically transfer the fuel so personnel would not have this daily chore. Ruggedness was a key factor in the project.


Now US Navy is arming drone boats

John Reed, Saturday 03 November 2012

While the US Air Force’s drones have been firing all sorts of air-to-surface missiles and bombs for roughly a decade now, the Navy took a big step toward getting in on the action last week when it launched six Israeli-made Spike missiles from an unmanned 36-foot motorboat. The Navy pretty much admits that the project — called the unmanned surface vehicle precision engagement module (USV PEM) — is aimed at defeating threats that are straight out of Iran’s war plans for the Persian Gulf region.


Robot to help Oregon police

Toledo Blade-Oct 29, 2012

The Oregon Police Division will be getting some significant upgrades thanks to a corporate donation and money from a federal grant. A $15,000 donation from


US Navy’s robotic firefighter

Telegraph.co.uk-Oct 25, 2012

The aluminium robot named Ash (Autonomous Shipboard Humanoid), sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, will serve to tackle flames in thick smoke.


Pentagon To Replace Mine-Clearing Dolphins With Robots

io9-19 hours ago

But now, due to escalating costs and a viable robotic alternative, the Sea the US military used herds of goats to clear minefields in Italy during World War II).


Japan Produces Its Own Bot to Inspect Fukushima Plant

By Robotics Trends’ News Sources – Filed Oct 19, 2012

Researchers have built a new and more nimble camera-carrying robot to climb stairs inside the Fukushima No. 1 plant and deliver images from areas where radiation levels remain dangerously high.


Military Stats Reveal Epicenter of U.S. Drone War

Noah Shachtman, November 9, 2012

Forget Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and all the other secret little warzones. The real center of the U.S. drone campaign is in plain sight — on the hot and open battlefield of Afghanistan. The American military has launched 333 drone strikes this year in Afghanistan. That’s not only the highest total ever, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. It’s essentially the same number of robotic attacks in Pakistan since the CIA-led campaign there began nearly eight years ago. In the last 30 days, there have been three reported strikes in Yemen. In Afghanistan, that’s just an average day’s worth of remotely piloted attacks. And the increased strikes come as the rest of the war in Afghanistan is slowing down.


September 2012

Pentagon’s New Mechanical Horse Is Smart Enough to Follow Its Masters

September 10, 2012 – Boston Dynamics keeps refining its Legged Squad Support System, the robotic quadruped descendant of the good old and creepy Big Dog. The new version of the eerie mechanical horse, which will aid US Marines squads once finished, got some cool upgrades.


Homeland Security Wants Drones for Public Safety, Doesn’t Want to Tell Public About Them

POSTED BY: Evan Ackerman  /  Mon, October 01, 2012

Good news, everyone! The Department of Homeland Security, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that it would be kinda cool to have drones flying around to, you know, “protect the homeland.” The Robotic Aircraft for Public Safety program will provide “Federal and  local officials with state-of-the-art technology” to do all kinds of stuff in domestic airspace right above your head. What kinds of stuff? Sorry, that’s all classified, but don’t worry, citizens: rest assured that the DHS cares about you and would never do anything that you wouldn’t want them to do. Or something.


Not Even the White House Knows the Drones’ Body Count

Noah Shactman, September 29, 2012

Government officials claim they’re ultra-precise killing machines that never, ever miss their targets. Outside groups say they’re covered in children’s blood. The fact is no one has a clue exactly how many militants and how many innocents have been slain in the U.S. drone war that spans from Pakistan to Somalia. Remember that before you start your next Twitter feud about the drone war.


Flight of The Mystery Drone: Bird ‘Bot Flew over Iraq

Spencer Ackerman, September 17, 2012

It wasn’t just Pakistan. The weird, vaguely avian drone of unknown origin that curiously showed up in Pakistan last year apparently made a different flight — to Iraq. It may have even migrated to Pakistan from Basra. In August 2011, Pakistani forces recovered a small, silver, unarmed aircraft that had crashed in Balochistan province. With silver wings and a span about the size of a grown man’s outstretched arms, the drone was clearly more than a hobbyist’s toy: the remains of a camera were near the crash site, a camera that fit into the robotic bird’s belly, ostensibly for spying on insurgents. No one claimed responsibility for the drone, but when Danger Room checked into it, we found it suspiciously reminiscent of Festo’s SmartBird, a drone that used the herring gull to inspire its design, although there were enough differences in the wings, tail and fuselage to render it distinct.


U.S. Drones Never Left Libya; Will Hunt Benghazi Thugs

Spencer Ackerman, September 12, 2012

The skies over Libya were clogged with U.S. Predator drones during last year’s war. But just because the war officially ended in October didn’t mean the drones went home. A Defense Department official tells Danger Room that the U.S. has kept drone flights flying over Libya, despite the conflict that initially brought them to Libyan airspace ending nearly a year ago. “Yes, we have been flying CAPs since the war ended,” says Army Lt. Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. (CAPs is a military acronym for “combat air patrols,” a term of art that typically refers to several planes flying at once for a particular mission.) The drone flights, done for surveillance purposes, occur with the consent of the new Libyan government.


The Pentagon Doesn’t Trust Its Own Robots

Spencer Ackerman, September 11, 2012

The Pentagon’s science advisers want military robots to operate with far greater autonomy than they do today. Only one problem: There’s a cloud of distrust and misunderstanding hovering over the robots that the Pentagon already has. That’s an unexpected conclusion in a July study from the Defense Science Board (.pdf), recently acquired by Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. The Board wondered what’s inhibiting the development of autonomous military vehicles and other systems. It found that the humans who have to interact with robots in high-stakes situations often labor under the misimpression that autonomy means the machine can do a human’s job, rather than help a human do her job more efficiently. And some simply don’t have faith that the robots work as directed.


Army Wants Tiny Suicidal Drone to Kill From 6 Miles Away

Spencer Ackerman, September 10, 2012

Killer drones just keep getting smaller. The Army wants to know how prepared its defense-industry partners are to build what it calls a “Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System.” It’s for when the Army needs someone dead from up to six miles away in 30 minutes or less. How small will the new mini-drone be? The Army’s less concerned about size than it is about the drone’s weight, according to a recent pre-solicitation for businesses potentially interested in building the thing. The whole system — drone, warhead and launch device — has to weigh under five pounds. An operator should be able to carry the future Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System, already given the acronym LMAMS in a backpack and be able to set it up to fly within two minutes.


29 Dead in 8 Days as U.S. Puts Yemen Drone War in Overdrive

Noah Shachtman, September 5, 2012

29 dead in a little over a week. Nearly 200 gone this year. The White House is stepping up its campaign of drone attacks in Yemen, with four strikes in eight days. And not even the slaying of 10 civilians over the weekend seems to have slowed the pace in the United States’ secretive, undeclared war.


Robotic Tuna Assists Homeland Security

09/26/12 —  Inspired by the speedy tuna capable of swimming tirelessly in the oceans, the US Department of Homeland Security will introduce a fish-like robot for underwater patrols. The ‘BIOSwimmer’ robot sports features like the real-life fish with replicated fins and a flexible tail to pull off quick maneuvers. US Homeland Security funded the robot made by Boston Engineering, Waltham, MA with an eye toward missions such as exploring the flooded areas of ships, inspecting oil tankers or patrolling US harbors to watch out for suspicious activity. “It’s called ‘biomimetics’. We’re using nature as a basis for design and engineering a system…


Long Endurance Submarine Could Track Enemies for Months

08/29/12 — DARPA, the US Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency, awarded a contract to the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to develop the design, which is meant for the products of the ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) ACTUV (Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel) program to offset the diesel-electric submarines, which are a potential risk…


Robocop gets real: The remote controlled robot that could put

Daily Mail-4 hours ago

Prototype robots being tested by the group can change from two wheels to four, depending on the terrain. FIU professor Nagarajan Prabakar said: ‘We want to



July-Aug. 2012

Robot airplane flies by itself and maneuvers without GPS

Aug 09, 2012, 5:00 PM | By Jason Pepper

MIT’s Robust Robotics Group, led by professor Nick Roy, shows an autonomous robotic airplane that’s able to dodge pillars in a parking garage.


Hexcopter robot takes to the Defcon skies

Jul 31, 2012, 5:41 PM | By Seth Rosenblatt

If four rotors aren’t enough for you, how about six? Parallax shows off a hexcopter mod for its popular, hackable ELEV-8 quadcopter kit at Defcon.


Bomb-Disarming Robot Was First to Enter Alleged Aurora Shooter’s …

Scientific American (blog)-Jul 25, 2012

“That robot was really skillfully driven by one of the Adams County bomb techs,” After eliminating the initial threat, the robot’s camera was used to search for


DARPA’s New Challenge: Increase Robotic Power Efficiency By …

Forbes-Aug 2, 2012

DARPA’s new M3 Actuation program challenges developers to increase robotic power efficiency by 20-fold. It’s also represented with this enigmatic image.


The Robot Sub That Can Chart Nearly Every Inch of the Ocean

August 2, 2012 – As the world awaits Curiosity’s arrival on Mars, an alien landscape 141.6 million miles closer to home remains woefully unexplored. To chart the vast depths of the ocean, the UK has developed an unmanned sub capable of diving miles beneath the sea. It’s called the Autosub6000. More »


The Army’s Gigantic 300-Foot Drone Blimp Is Alive Over New Jersey

August 8, 2012 – The LEMV is a robot blimp the size of a football field, designed to spy across an entire battlefield for weeks at a time. It’s also looked like military vaporware—until now, soaring over the Jersey Shore. More »


Killer-Drone Showdown Set as Lockheed Unveils Jet-Powered ‘Bot

David Axe, July 30, 2012

Sometime in the next few years the world’s most sophisticated drone prototypes will likely face off in what could be a multi-billion-dollar competition to shape the future of air warfare. And now we finally know what all four contestants look like. On Friday, number-one defense contractor Lockheed Martin released the first official teaser image of its Sea Ghost jet-powered killer drone. Along with previously disclosed unmanned aerial vehicle designs from rivals Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Atomics, the Sea Ghost will go head-to-head for a Navy contract to put fast, stealthy, missile- and bomb-armed drones on the decks of aircraft carriers by 2018.


Europe Wants Drones to Spot Illegal Immigrants at Sea

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, July 26, 2012

The European Union wants robotic eyes on incoming immigrants. As part of a $410 million proposal to improve border security, the European Commission, the executive body of the Union, is considering a deployment of drones above the Mediterranean Sea to keep an eye on illegal immigrants. Alongside increased satellite activity, “sensors mounted on any platforms, including manned and unmanned aerial vehicles” would keep a close watch on unauthorized immigration activity in the Mediterranean Sea, according to the European agency in charge of the EU’s borders.


Russia Is Stockpiling Drones to Spy on Street Protests

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, July 25, 2012

Small surveillance drones are starting to be part of police departments across America, and the FAA will soon open up the airspace for more to come. This drone invasion has already raised all kinds of privacy concerns. And if you think that’s bad, across the ocean, Russia seems hell-bent on outdoing its former Cold War enemy.


Satellite Spots Syria’s Iranian-Made Drones

David Axe, July 23, 2012

Since at least February, the Syrian government has been using Iranian-built drones to track and target Free Syrian Army rebels in their strongholds, including Homs and Hamah. Now some fresh commercial satellite imagery provides new details about the unmanned aerial vehicles’ possible tactics and capabilities.


GPS Hijacking Catches Feds, Drone Makers Off Guard

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, July 19, 2012

On June 19, when University of Texas researchers successfully hijacked a drone by “spoofing” it — giving it bad GPS coordinates – they showed the Department of Homeland Security how civilian drones could fall into the wrong hands, exposing a potentially serious security flaw. It was exactly what Todd Humphreys, the lead researcher, anticipated in a TEDx talk in February: “You can scarcely imagine the kind of havoc you could cause if you knew what you were doing with a GPS spoofer.”


Super-Silent Owl Drone Will Spy on You Without You Ever Noticing

Robert Beckhusen, July 19, 2012

For spy tools, drones are pretty easy to spot. And hear, because they’re as loud as a gut-busting rock concert. But now the intelligence community’s research division, Iarpa, plans to start designing a silent drone inspired by quiet, creeping, flying owls. Darpa has reportedly awarded a $4.8 million contract to Connecticut firm D-Star Engineering to develop the ultra-quiet drone, Aviation Week reports. It’s the next step in developing a workable drone as part of the agency’s Great Horned Owl Program, which the agency hopes will let the military collect intelligence “without anyone knowing you are there,” (.pdf) according to an agency briefing.


Pentagon, CIA Sued for Lethal Drone Attacks on U.S. Citizens

David Kravets, July 18, 2012

Survivors of three Americans killed by targeted drone attacks in Yemen last year sued top-ranking members of the United States government, alleging Wednesday they illegally killed the three, including a 16-year-old boy, in violation of international human rights law and the U.S. Constitution.


Tiny 2-Foot Bomb Could Be ‘Months’ Away From Drone War

Spencer Ackerman, July 13, 2012

The drone war could be shrinking faster than anyone expected. Raytheon’s teeny, tiny drone bomb might be ready to arm a small drone within months, the defense giant says. Since 2009, Raytheon has been experimenting with what it understatedly calls a Small Tactical Munition. It’s a laser-guided bomb less than two feet long and barely a 10th the weight of the Hellfire missiles that the iconic Predators and Reapers pack. And the wait for it may be almost over: “We’re just tweaking the software and running some environmental tests,” a business manager for Raytheon’s missile division told AIN Online.


Robotic Cameras Will Snap Pictures at the 2012 Olympics

07/10/12 — Cameras with swiveling, nimble robotic heads will be deployed by photographers who work for Getty Images, the official agency of the International Olympics Committee. The robotic heads will be perchedon scaffolding above several of the sporting sites. The photographers themselves will be stationed below with what one Getty photographer described…


June 2012

First-time Demo of Wireless Through-the-earth Command and Control of a Robotic Vehicle

06/12/12 — ChronicleHerald—An abandoned coal mine near Springhill, Nova Scotia was the test site this winter for an underground robot communications system developed by Ultra Electronics Maritime Systems Inc. of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. “We wanted to validate the capabilities of the system under the most realistic conditions possible,” Steve Parsons, business development manager at Ultra, said Monday in an interview. It was a first-time demonstration of wireless through-the-earth command and control of a remotely operated robotic vehicle, Parsons said. “It’s the first time the capabilities of this technology have been successfully placed on a robot,” he said. “There are a few other…


Throwbot Packs Big Capability Boost in Small Package

06/08/12 — Defense News—Recon Robotics, maker of the Recon Scout XT throwable robot — now officially renamed the Throwbot XT in a nod to its cooler-sounding nickname — has made a big change to a small package. The company already has 3,700 Throwbots in use in 30 countries around the world, but none of those systems has the capability that the company is unveiling today: a microphone so users can hear what’s going on around the robot once it’s tossed into a building or over a wall. The microphone added no weight to the 1.6-pound robot, said Ernest Langdon, the company’s director…


Boeing’s Chubby Hydrogen-Powered UAV Makes Its First Flight

POSTED BY: Evan Ackerman  /  Tue, June 05, 2012

Most unmanned aerial vehicles are sleek, streamlined affairs that look like they belong in a science fiction movie. Not so with Boeing’s Phantom Eye UAV: it’s got long skinny wings sticking out of a body shaped like a chronically overfed gerbil. This is because it’s stuffed full of hydrogen, allowing it to stay airborne for days at a time.


Unmanned Air Force space plane lands after secret mission

Jun 16, 2012, 12:52 PM | By William Harwood

Wrapping up a classified 469-day mission, an unmanned Air Force space plane dropped out of orbit and returned to Earth on Saturday, executing an automated landing to close out the program’s second test flight.


Drones’ Future: Supersonic Swarms of Robot Bugs

By Judy Dutton,June 22, 2012

A micro-aviary of drones that look—and fly—like ladybugs, dragonflies, and other insects. Since 2008, George Huang, professor of engineering at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, has managed to produce a butterfly model with a 5-inch wingspan. “We haven’t done a final version where we declare victory,” Huang says. “I’ll be happy once it’s fly-sized.”


US Military Wants Drones in South America, But Why?

Spencer Ackerman, June 12, 2012

Flying, spying robots are addictive. Every military commander who has them wants more. Those who don’t have them covet their colleagues’ supply. And according to Air Force planning, they’re about to go to the military’s redheaded, drone-poor stepchild: the command overseeing South America.


May 2012

EFF Warns of Police Drone Privacy Concerns

The EFF has issued an appeal to local governments to institute privacy protections against the misuse of drones by local law enforcement agencies. The FAA’s initial rules for allowing flying robots into the National Airspace System were announced on 14 May. Many law enforcement agencies are already obtaining and flying drones but they’re not likely to volunteer that information. It took an EFF Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to make the FAA release the list of who has been approved to fly spy drones over US cities. When local newspapers in Seattle found out from the EFF that police had purchased two drones and made survellience plans without informing the City Council, the Washington ACLU called for the city to develop policies to safeguard privacy and free speech rights.


Robot to Robot: Dragon and Space Station Meet Up

05/25/12 — The privately owned and operated SpaceX Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station on Friday, a success for the Obama administration’s new strategy of using robotic missions and public-private partnerships in space.  NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station helped guide the capsule in, but the craft itself was operated remotely from SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. “It looks like we’ve got us a Dragon by the tail,” NASA’s Don Pettit told SpaceX Mission Control, carrying on a long tradition of carefully scripted astronaut quips.  “For the first time, a private American company has successfully launched a spacecraft into…


As Summer Storm Season Arrives, Disaster Robots Are Ready

05/16/12 — Wired—The next time a hurricane slams the US, look for Robin Murphy and her army of machines. Murphy heads the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, where she commands an arsenal of unmanned craft that specialize in emergency response. Her team has been on call since 9/11; the hero bots’ first mission was to comb through the rubble at the World Trade Center. “With the smoke and purple sky from the portable lights, it was like the opening sequence of The Terminator,” Murphy recalls. Since then, the remotely controlled scouts have been deployed to mud slides, caved-in mines, and collapsed…


Robojelly: Hydrogen-Powered Robot Jellyfish

05/11/12 — That innocent-looking jellyfish floating along in the ocean may actually be Robojelly, a hydrogen-fueled robot surveillance jellyfish in development for the Navy. It seems like the U.S. Navy is getting all the cool toys these days. Hot on the heels of the Saffir humanoid firefighting robot, comes Robojelly. Robojelly may…


Police in Washington DC Area Get Recon Robots

05/03/12 — EDINA, Minn—ReconRobotics, Inc. announced today that the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) has purchased and taken delivery of 13 Recon Scout XT micro-robot kits, which it has distributed to pre-designated Type 1 tactical teams throughout the Washington DC area. MWCOG purchased the tactical reconnaissance robots using grant funds from…


Robotic Device to Help Commandos

05/01/12 — Hyderbad, India—Scientists plan to equip a robot with artificial intelligence, auto navigation and facial detection features in the next two phases. Eventually, the budding scientists want to enable its operation through an android phone.  Such a Robotic Command System would come in handy for commandos, police personnel and firemen. It…


Meet ‘Robbie’: Darpa’s Seeing, Feeling, Two-Armed Robot

Katie Drummond, May 24, 2012

It’s only been three months since the Pentagon’s latest robot — the one able to staple paperwork and answer phone calls with a single autonomous arm —  demonstrated some of those amazing skills. Now, the freaky humanoid ‘bot is back. And this time, he has two arms. And a name. Meet Robbie. This particular robot was designed by RE2, a robotics firm in Pittsburgh, which showed him off to IEEE Spectrum at their International Conference on Robotics and Automation last week. RE2 was one of six teams initially contracted by Darpa, the Pentagon’s robo-loving research agency, to work on their Autonomous Robotic Manipulation (ARM) program. Launched two years ago, the program aims to develop robots that can perform complex tasks with minimal input from their human overlords.


Army Readies Its Mammoth Spy Blimp for First Flight

David Axe, May 22, 2012

TAMPA, Florida — Sure, it took an extra year or so, but Northrop Grumman has finally penciled in the first flight of the giant surveillance airship it’s building for the U.S. Army. The Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle — a football-field-size, helium-filled robot blimp fitted with sensors and data-links — should take to the air over Lakehurst, New Jersey, the first or second week of June. K.C. Brown, Jr., Northrop’s director of Army programs, crows: ”We’re about to fly the thing!” It’s fair to say Northrop and the Army are crossing their collective fingers for the flight to actually take place, and smoothly. Giant airships promise huge benefits — namely, low cost and long flight times — but it’s proved incredibly hard to build and equip the massive blimps with military-grade sensors and communications … and fill them with helium.


Pentagon Issues Drone War Talking Points

Spencer Ackerman, May 11, 2012

It’s official: the U.S. drone war over Pakistan, Yemen and beyond really does exist. John Brennan, President Obama’s principal counterterrorism adviser, disclosed the government’s worst kept secret in a Washington speech last week. So now the Pentagon has to talk about it. Kind of. A memorandum for the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s public-affairs shop provides talking points for military mouthpieces to discuss the secretive war in public. Its bottom line: yes, you can say there is a drone war — but don’t say much more about it.


Oops! Air Force Drones Can Now (Accidentally) Spy on You

Spencer Ackerman, May 8, 2012

As long as the Air Force pinky-swears it didn’t mean to, its drone fleet can keep tabs on the movements of Americans, far from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen. And it can hold data on them for 90 days — studying it to see if the people it accidentally spied upon are actually legitimate targets of domestic surveillance. The Air Force, like the rest of the military and the CIA, isn’t supposed to conduct “nonconsensual surveillance” on Americans domestically, according to an Apr. 23 instruction from the flying service. But should the drones taking off over American soil accidentally keep their cameras rolling and their sensors engaged, well … that’s a different story.


U.S. Drones Can Now Kill Joe Schmoe Militants in Yemen

Noah Shachtman, April 26, 2012

In September, American-born militant Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. In the seven months since, the al-Qaida affiliate there has only grown in power, influence, and lethality. The American solution? Authorize more drone attacks — and not just against well-known extremists like Awlaki, but against faceless, nameless, low-level terrorists as well. A relentless campaign of unmanned airstrikes has significantly weakened al-Qaida’s central leadership in Pakistan, American policymakers say. There, militants were chosen for robotic elimination based solely on their intelligence “signatures” — their behavior, as captured by wiretaps, overhead surveillance and local informants. A similar approach might not work in this case, however. “Every Yemeni is armed,” one unnamed U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal. “So how can they differentiate between suspected militants and armed Yemenis?”


Jan.-April 2012

The long arm of Microsoft tries taking down Zeus botnets

Mar 25, 2012, Stephen Shankland

Microsoft and its allies seized control servers Friday in two states as part of an operation to not just stop the botnets but also to disrupt how criminals use them.


DARPA: Build us robots that drive — and use power tools

Apr 10, 2012, Martin LaMonica

The defense agency’s new Robotics Challenge is a contest to design robots for disaster relief. A key goal: Let humanoid robots, not fleshy humans, enter danger zones.


Navy sets sail with robotics lab

Apr 03, 2012, Martin LaMonica

Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research has labs for testing robots in different natural environments, including rain forests and deserts.


iRobot Warrior, PackBot go to work at S.C. nuclear plant

Apr 02, 2012, Tim Hornyak

With a tour of duty in Japan’s Fukushima under their belt, iRobot’s military robots are now working at a U.S. nuclear plant as part of routine operations.


Army starts testing bots inspired by sand fleas, roaches

Mar 28, 2012, Tim Hornyak

These insect-like recon robots from Boston Dynamics are set to be deployed to Afghanistan for more testing.


Robotic jellyfish for U.S. Navy powers itself with seawater

Mar 21, 2012, Edward Moyer

Researchers are working on a robot that looks and moves like a jellyfish and powers itself with the help of high-tech materials and seawater. Surveillance and environmental monitoring are possible uses.


MK2 arms perfect for gun-toting military robots

Mar 07, 2012, Tim Hornyak

Police and military robots could soon get two arms instead of one with the MK2 system from HDT Global.


RoboCops Now Guarding South Korean Prisons

Evan Ackerman  /  Mon, April 16, 2012

The next time you find yourself in a South Korean prison (and don’t worry, it happens to the best of us), this not especially friendly looking robot is going to be either your new best buddy or your new worst enemy. But probably the latter.


DARPA Wants to Give Soldiers Robot Surrogates, Avatar Style

Evan Ackerman  /  Fri, February 17, 2012

In the movie Avatar, humans hooked themselves up to brain-machine-interface pods with which they could control giant genetically engineered human-alien hybrids. It’s just a movie, but DARPA, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, doesn’t care: It wants this kind of system to be real, just replace “giant genetically engineered human-alien hybrids” with “robots.”


LS3 AlphaDog Robot Begins Outdoor Assessment (Video)

Evan Ackerman  /  Wed, February 08, 2012

We got our first look at Boston Dynamics new bigger, badder, and bigger and badder BigDog back in September, and DARPA’s already gotten on the horse and saddled up the bot with a bunch of luggage and chased it out into the wilderness to see how it’ll do.


Cute Little Drone Could Soar Through the Skies of Saturn’s Moon Titan

Evan Ackerman  /  Mon, January 30, 2012

The surface of Titan, one of the moons of Saturn, is a bizarre place, as the Huygens probe found out back in 2005. There are hydrocarbon lakes kept full by methane rain, with volcanoes that spew mixtures of water and ammonia. It’s definitely strange enough that we should take another look at the place, and a mission being proposed by a group of scientists would send an airplane there to cruise Titan’s nitrogen skies.


Robotic Assistant for Prison Guards

17 Apr 2012, John_RobotsPodcast

If you believe that machines are destined to become our overlords, this is likely to send a chill up your spine.


Autonomous Robot Completes “Full Day’s Work” Unassisted

01/30/12 — Denver, Colo-based Gamma Two Robotics’ security robot ‘Vigilus’ recently completed a full day’s work, patrolling a parking garage for eight hours. And it did it all autonomously. No person helped the robot, told it how to navigate the garage, when to yield to moving cars, nor how to avoid obstacles in its…


Turbo-jet Robot Hunts Typhoons

04/19/12 — National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan—An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) design team led by Wei-Hsiang Lai, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and director of advanced propulsion and power system research center at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) has innovated first turbo-jet robot aircraft named Sky Fortress-III anticipating to assist in typhoon surveillance and disaster prevention and marked a milestone in robotic aviation of Taiwan. The critical role of turbines in aircraft is well-acknowledged and the global market of UVA is about NT$100 billion annually. The aeronautics and astronautics research team in NCKU will put effort in integrating fields of geomatics, water…


Upgraded Killer Drone May Fly for Two Days Straight

David Axe – Wired, Apr 19, 2012

The Air Force’s premier killer drone could get a lot more dangerous, if the flying branch agrees to upgrades proposed by the robot’s manufacturer. California drone-maker General Atomics has figured out ways to nearly double the flight time of the camera-, missile- and radar-equipped MQ-9 Reaper by adding fuel pods, longer wings and stronger landing gear. With all three enhancements, a Reaper’s endurance jumps from 27 hours to a whopping 42 – almost two days of continuous flying, which makes a big difference now that the Air Force is scaling back its drone buys.


Darpa to Troubled Soldiers: Meet Your New Simulated Therapist

Katie Drummond, April 20, 2012

The Pentagon hasn’t made much progress in solving the PTSD crisis plaguing this generation of soldiers. Now it’s adding new staff members to the therapy teams tasked with spotting the signs of emotional pain and providing therapy to the beleaguered. Only this isn’t a typical hiring boost. The new therapists, Danger Room has learned, will be computer-generated “virtual humans,” used to offer diagnostics, and programmed to appear empathetic.


Hundreds of Warbots Will Join Cops’ Ranks

Spencer Ackerman, April 9, 2012

The war in Iraq is (mostly) over. The war in Afghanistan is (slowly, incompletely) ending. And yet the new battlefield robots produced by a decade of war are having an easier transition to peacetime than some human veterans. The robots are simply trading their fatigues for the blue uniforms of American police.


Navy Chief: Robotic Subs Might Span Oceans. (Someday.)

Spencer Ackerman, March 19, 2012

It’s been the Navy’s dream for years: undersea drones that can swim entire oceans. But it’s been thwarted by science’s inability to build propulsion and fuel systems for a journey of that length. Still, the Navy’s top officer and its mad scientists think that some recent research could help turn the dream into an ocean-crossing reality.


Advanced Israeli Drone May Spy on Mexican Drug Cartels

Robert Beckhusen, March 15, 2012

Israel isn’t keeping its latest advanced spy drone for itself. It’s going south of the U.S. border, probably purchased by the Mexican government. The cartel war may be about to get a lot more robotic.


Don’t Freak Out, But Iran Is Helping Venezuela Build Drones

Robert Beckhusen, March 8, 2012

Iran is planning to build drones for the Venezuelan military. Just so you know, it sounds worse than it is. That’s according to Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, chief of U.S. forces in South America. According to Fraser, who spoke to reporters in Washington on Wednesday, the drones are to be manufactured in Venezuela with Iranian help and will likely be used for “internal defense.” The exact kind of drones isn’t clear. But the robots are probably too small to be armed.


U.S. Drone War Returns to Pakistan (And It Ain’t Stopping)

Spencer Ackerman, January 11, 2012

For the first time since a deadly U.S.-Pakistani firefight drove relations between the two uneasy allies into the toilet, a missile fired by a drone slammed into a North Waziristan target. Surprise! Washington-Islamabad acrimony isn’t enough to stop the drone war. Four people were killed near Mirin Shah in the first drone strike since Nov. 16. In the interim, 24 Pakistani soldiers died in a U.S. helicopter strike during a raid by U.S. commandos on a village near the Pakistan border; a military inquiry determined the Pakistanis had fired persistently on the commandos. The drone war has effectively been on pause to let U.S. diplomacy with Islamabad regroup.


Robo-Copter Will Keep Tabs on Navy’s Biofuel Plants

Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman, January 20, 2012

The Navy is hoping to one day run a huge chunk of its fleet on biofuels. So the Navy’s advanced researchers — and their partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture — are turning to a tiny robotic helicopter to help them figure out which crop they might be able to convert into their fuel of the future.



June – Dec. 2011

Robo-Copter Will Keep Tabs on Navy’s Biofuel Plants

Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman January 20, 2012 

The Navy is hoping to one day run a huge chunk of its fleet on biofuels. So the Navy’s advanced researchers — and their partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture — are turning to a tiny robotic helicopter to help them figure out which crop they might be able to convert into their fuel of the future. The experiment is taking place over 35,000 acres of Maui soil, on the fields of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar, the state’s largest commercial sugar plantation. That’s the site of a $10 million, five-year gamble to test which of plantation’s crops might work as grow-your-jetfuel. The drone helicopter will track every temperature fluctuation and sprouting bud emerging into the Hawaiian sun.


U.S. Drone War Returns to Pakistan (And It Ain’t Stopping)

For the first time since a deadly U.S.-Pakistani firefight drove relations between the two uneasy allies into the toilet, a missile fired by a drone slammed into a North Waziristan target. Surprise! Washington-Islamabad acrimony isn’t enough to stop the drone war. Four people were killed near Mirin Shah in the first drone strike since Nov. 16. In the interim, 24 Pakistani soldiers died in a U.S. helicopter strike during a raid by U.S. commandos on a village near the Pakistan border; a military inquiry determined the Pakistanis had fired persistently on the commandos. The drone war has effectively been on pause to let U.S. diplomacy with Islamabad regroup.


Almost 1 In 3 U.S. Warplanes Is a Robot

By Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman, January 9, 2012

Remember when the military actually put human beings in the cockpits of its planes? They still do, but in far fewer numbers. According to a new congressional report acquired by Danger Room, drones now account for 31 percent of all military aircraft. To be fair, lots of those drones are tiny flying spies, like the Army’s Raven, that could never accommodate even the most diminutive pilot. (Specifically, the Army has 5,346 Ravens, making it the most numerous military drone by far.) But in 2005, only five percent of military aircraft were robots, a report by the Congressional Research Service notes. Barely seven years later, the military has 7,494 drones. Total number of old school, manned aircraft: 10,767 planes.


It’s Not a UFO, Just a Killer Drone for an Aircraft Carrier

Spencer Ackerman, By Spencer Ackerman

Note to the Navy: When trucking a giant flying robot with a rounded fuselage across the country, people are going to think they’re looking at an artifact from Area 51. As the local news coverage above shows, residents of Cowley County, Kansas, were freaked out to see a truck rumbling down U.S. 77 towing what looks a whole lot like a 32-foot spaceship. “People were calling in saying, ‘Oh they think they found a flying saucer,’” Donetta Godsey of the Winfield Daily Courier told the ABC News affiliate.


Marines’ Robot Cargo-Copter Takes Flight in Afghanistan

David Axe, December 19, 2011

Pakistan is still blockading NATO war supplies passing through the port of Karachi in response to last month’s killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by an alliance air strike. But inside Afghanistan, supply lines are about to get a lot safer for NATO’s logisticians. On Saturday, the Marine Corps flew history’s very first combat resupply mission using a robot helicopter. The unmanned Kaman K-MAX successfully hauled a sling-load of cargo out to an unspecified base, presumably somewhere in southern Afghanistan. The successful first flight, plus a couple test runs earlier last week, “were in preparation for sustained operations,” Jeffrey Brown from Lockheed Martin told Paul McLeary of Aviation Week. Lockheed has partnered with Kaman and the Marine Corps to demonstrate two of the unmanned supply choppers in combat.

New Armed Stealth Drone Heads to Afghanistan (And Maybe Iran, Too)

David Axe, December 13, 2011

The U.S. Air Force is sending a single copy of a brand-new stealth drone to Afghanistan. Only maybe not just Afghanistan. Officially, the General Atomics-made Avenger — a sleek, jet-powered upgrade of the iconic armed Predator and Reaper — is heading to Afghanistan as a combat-capable “test asset.” The Air Force said in a statement that it loves how the Avenger’s “internal weapons bay and four hardpoints on each wing,” will give it “greater flexibility and will accommodate a large selection of next generation sensor and weapons payloads,” as reported by Zach Rosenberg at Flightglobal. Problem is, you don’t really need those things in Afghanistan. Internal weapons bays, which hide the radar signatures of bombs and missiles, are for stealth: most warplanes don’t have them. And it’s not like the Taliban has been firing radar-guided missiles at NATO aircraft. Besides, there are already dozens of armed drones in Afghanistan. One more isn’t going to make much of a difference.


Air Force Tells Reporters: You’re Not Welcome at Our Drone Base Anymore

Dawn Lim and Noah Shachtman, November 29, 2011

When the Air Force activated its first unmanned aircraft wing in 2007, the military invited journalists out to Creech Air Force Base in Nevada to come take a look at the robotic future taking off. Today, that kind of openness would be unthinkable. The Air Force began to limit press access to Creech in 2009. In the last six months, they’ve closed it off almost entirely, turning down every American media request to visit the drone pilots. The only visit approved during that period was from a British outlet, involving Creech’s UK drone squadron, Air Force officials tell Danger Room.

CIA Drones Kill Large Groups Without Knowing Who They Are

Spencer Ackerman, November 4, 2011

The expansion of the CIA’s undeclared drone war in the tribal areas of Pakistan required a big expansion of who can be marked for death. Once the standard for targeted killing was top-level leadership in al-Qaeda or one of its allies. That’s long gone, especially as the number of people targeted at once has grown. This is the new standard, according to a blockbuster piece in the Wall Street Journal: “men believed to be militants associated with terrorist groups, but whose identities aren’t always known.” The CIA is now killing people without knowing who they are, on suspicion of association with terrorist groups. The article does not define the standards are for “suspicion” and “association.”

Libya: The Real U.S. Drone War

Spencer Ackerman, October 20, 2011

It took Predator drones about three weeks from the start of NATO’s war against Moammar Gadhafi to arrive in the skies over Libya. Since then, they’ve been busy: from April 21 to 9 a.m. Central European Time today, the Predators have launched 145 strikes, according to Pentagon spokesman George Little. By comparison, that’s way more than twice the 57 drone strikes so far this year in Pakistan, the central locale for the U.S. drone war, and significantly more than 2010′s entire all-time-high of 117 drone strikes in Pakistan. The Predators did not let up after Libyan rebels captured Tripoli in late August. By then, the U.S. drones had dropped their Hellfire missiles 92 times in four months. In the remaining two months, the Predators slightly stepped up their deadly pace during the residual hunt for Moammar Gadhafi, with 52 more strikes.


Army Tracking Plan: Drones That Never Forget a Face

Noah Shachtman, September 28, 2011

Perhaps the idea of spy drones already makes your nervous. Maybe you’re uncomfortable with the notion of an unblinking, robotic eye in the sky that can watch your every move. If so, you may want to click away now. Because if the Army has its way, drones won’t just be able to look at what you do. They’ll be able to recognize your face — and track you, based on how you look. If the military machines assemble enough information, they might just be able to peer into your heart. The Pentagon has tried all sort of tricks to keep tabs on its foes as they move around: tiny transmitters, lingering scents, even “human thermal fingerprints.” The military calls the effort “Tagging, Tracking, and Locating,” or “TTL.” And, as the strategy in places like Afghanistan has shifted from rebuilding societies to taking out individual insurgents, TTL has become increasingly central to the American effort. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been devoted to it.


Iran Running Drone Competitions to Upgrade Unmanned Air Force

Adam Rawnsley, September 23, 2011

Drones: every military wants ‘em. But if you’re a country like Iran, sanctions can put a bit of a crimp in your efforts to build an unmanned aerial vehicle fleet. To get around the problem, Iran is turning inward, using drone development competitions to gin up new ideas for homebrew UAVs.

Today America enjoys a distinct military advantage, thanks to its unmanned air force. Tomorrow, that advantage is likely to vanish, thanks to contests like Iran’s Div-e-Sepid. Competitors from up to 65 teams square off by racing their homemade drones around Mount Damavand, Iran’s highest mountain peak.


U.S. Establishes New Drone Bases for African Shadow Wars

David Axe, September 21, 2011

Washington is quietly setting up at least two new East African drone bases, plus one on the Arabian Peninsula, to support the expanding U.S. shadow war against Islamic militants in Somalia and Yemen. An apparently new facility has been built in Ethiopia. In the island nation of Seychelles, a defunct airfield is being reactivated. A third base is being set up in or near Yemen. The news, first reported by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, should come as no surprise to close observers of America’s shadow war on the borders of the Indian Ocean. But the base expansion could be met with outrage by the people most directly affected, especially Africans themselves. For years, Washington has insisted that it wouldn’t build new bases in Africa.


70 Days at Sea for New Navy Robot Subs

Adam Rawnsley, August 8, 2011

The U.S. military wants an underwater robot that’s strong enough to stay at sea for months, and smart enough to avoid any obstacles it might find along the way.

The American Navy has hundreds of manned ships and subs, of course. But it’s a big ocean out there: they can’t be everywhere at once. So the sea service is looking to unmanned vehicles as a way to keep its maritime dominance in the years to come.


Massive Drone Strike Hits Qaida Cop Station in Yemen

Spencer Ackerman, July 15, 2011

At some point, al-Qaida is going to have to figure out that gathering in conspicuous places just means giving a big, fat, blinking red target to the killer drones hovering above. In the latest sign of the intensifying U.S. shadow war in Yemen, drones hit a police station in Abyan Province, where fighters from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula have flocked during the country’s ongoing political crisis. al-Qaida reportedly took over the station, prompting the drone(s) to take action.


Insitu Inceptor – small UAV

Posted 9 Aug 2011 at 19:55 UTC by IKE_RobotsPodcast

This small helicopter is called Inceptor and it is the latest product of Insitu, the innovative company behind ScanEagle that is now owned by Boeing. Inceptor weighs only 3.5lbs and fits into a police car trunk. It has an electric motor with swappable lithium polymer batteries. It can fly for around 24min, take-off and land autonomously, navigate and hover via waypoints and also controlled semi-autonomously through a touchscreen. The integrated flight control system is a FCS20 provided by Adaptive Flight Inc. One can learn to operate it in a few hours and it provides electro-optic or IR imaging immediately even during adverse weather conditions and wind gusts. Video imagery is transmitted to the handheld ground control station and distributed to decision makers for real-time viewing. It flies below 500ft and within line of sight (as dictated by the FAA-issued certificate of authorization).


K-MAX RoboCopter Starts Making Autonomous Afghanistan Deliveries

Evan Ackerman  /  Tue, December 20, 2011

Helicopters are the most reliable way to get supplies to some of the more remote outposts in Afghanistan, but flying resupply missions is dangerous work. As of this week, some of those aerial resupply jobs will be taken over by an unmanned K-MAX helicopter, which flew its first successful mission over the weekend.


Spectrum Takes On Military Robotics

Posted 9 Aug 2011 at 15:51 UTC (updated 9 Aug 2011 at 15:51 UTC) by John_RobotsPodcast

IEEE Spectrum is currently featuring an article titled Autonomous Robots in the Fog of War, discussing the proliferation, variety, limitations, rapid progress, and potential of military robots.


Could Domestic Surveillance Drones Spur Tougher Privacy Laws?

Evan Ackerman  /  Mon, December 19, 2011

Have you ever been spied on by a surveillance drone? No? Are you sure? Maybe it looked like a hummingbird. Or an insect. Or maybe it was just really high up. Maybe there’s one looking in your window right now, and if so, there’s no law that says it shouldn’t.


Say Hello to Your New Robotic Wingman

Evan Ackerman  /  Mon, October 31, 2011

Late last month, Northrop Grumman’s ultra-futuristic X-47B unmanned combat air system (UCAS) performed its first test flight in “cruise mode;” that is, with its landing gear up in its typical flight configuration:


Unstoppable Robot Eats Landmines for Breakfast

Evan Ackerman  /  Wed, July 20, 2011

The Digger D-3 is the most recent addition to my own personal list of robots not to stand in front of. It’s a mine-clearing robot, and not the sort of mine-clearing robot that pokes around with a metal detector. Instead, it’s the sort of mine-clearing robot that just sucks it up and tells the landmines to bring it.


Robot Vacuum Sucks Up Radiation at Fukushima Plant

Erico Guizzo  /  Thu, July 07, 2011

After Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, U.S. firm iRobot sent four of its rugged, tank-like robots to help with recovery operations at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. It seems iRobot should have sent some Roomba vacuuming bots as well. Last week, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the plant’s operator, said it was improvising a robotic vacuum cleaner to remove radioactive dirt from the reactors.


NATO’s First Combat Casualty in Libya Is a Robot

Evan Ackerman  /  Thu, June 23, 2011

On Tuesday morning, a Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout was shot down by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in Libya, becoming NATO’s first combat casualty in the conflict. The U.S. Navy has been testing Fire Scouts for five years or so, and the robots have progressed from shipboard autonomous landings all the way to accidental drug busts, but this is the first we’ve heard of them actually involved in a major military operation.


Fukushima Daiichi Post-Shutdown: Ready for the Robots

12/16/11, Japan Real Time

Now that Japan has declared victory in the first, crisis phase of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, meet Quince: One…


Chinese Drone Debuts at Robotics Show – Photos

WSJ, 08/18/11

Unmanned Systems North America, an annual exposition in Washington, features robotic hardware from around the world. Among…


Flying orb can slip through windows, snap pics

Eight-winged Japanese sphere can fly up to 40 mph, enter buildings, and do rolling landings.

News – Jun 20, 2011, 3:28 PM | By Tim Hornyak



Feb. – May 2011

Aeryon Scout Quadrotor Spies On Bad Guys From Above

Erico Guizzo  /  Fri, May 06, 2011

Quadrotors are literally taking off. Just this year we’ve seen a quadrotor carrying a Kinect sensor, a mini quadrotor DIY project, and even a quadrotor that juggles. But quadrotors are also flying out of the laboratory and finding “professional” applications — like spying on bad guys from above.


Boeing Phantom Ray UCAS Makes First Flight

Evan Ackerman  /  Wed, May 04, 2011

It was barely two months ago that Northrop Grumman’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) made its first autonomous flight. On April 27, Boeing’s Phantom Ray followed suit on its first flight, maneuvering at 7,500 feet at speeds of over 175 knots. The test flight, which lasted just under 20 minutes, was followed by a perfect autonomous landing.


New Recon Scout Throwable Robot Can Climb Ship Hulls, Spy on Pirates

Evan Ackerman  /  Tue, May 03, 2011

We’re already familiar with ReconRobotic’s line of throwable surveillance robots, and they’ve just announced a new model, pictured above. Or rather, they’ve announced an entirely new capability for the little robot: it can now drive straight up vertical metal surfaces with the aid of some magical magnetic wheels, check it out.


X-47B Robot Aircraft Will Do It All With a Mouse Click

Evan Ackerman  /  Tue, April 12, 2011

All those Predators and Reapers flying around in Afghanistan and elsewhere may be called “unmanned drones,” but they’re human-in-the-loop systems, reliant (more or less) on a human pilot in a trailer somewhere. While they often have the capacity to return to a specific point if contact is lost, it doesn’t always go well, and sometimes it goes very badly.


Festo Launches SmartBird Robotic Seagull

Evan Ackerman  /  Thu, March 24, 2011

Festo has a fairly fascinating, frankly fantastical, and frequently full-on fabulous history with the robotic systems that they develop in partnership with universities and research groups as part of their Bionic Learning Network. In the past, we’ve seen flying penguins and jellyfish, as well as bio-inspired manipulators like this one. Today, Festo has unveiled their 2011 Bionic Learning Network projects, the most awesome of which is definitely SmartBird.


FirstLook: iRobot’s New Throwable Baby Surveillance Bot

Evan Ackerman  /  Wed, March 23, 2011

iRobot has just introduced the 110 FirstLook, a very small and lightweight robot designed to be used for scouting and surveillance when you don’t have access to its big brother, the Packbot. FirstLook is 25 centimeters (10 inches) long, 23 cm (9 in) wide, and only 10 cm (4 in) high. It weighs less than 2.3 kilograms (5 pounds). Onboard, it has four separate cameras, one on each side, allowing the operator to see in every direction at once, with IR illuminators for night vision.


Lockheed Martin’s Spybot Knows How Not to Be Seen

Evan Ackerman  /  Wed, March 23, 2011

There are some basic rules that both humans and robots should be aware of when it comes to not being seen, and Monty Python only scratched blew up the surface. Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Laboratory has been developing a robot designed to operate around humans without being detected, and not just by being small and quiet: it listens for humans, guesses where they might be looking, and then finds itself a nice dark hiding place when it needs to. Lockheed’s robot is equipped with a 3D laser scanner that allows it to build detailed maps of its surroundings. It also has an array of acoustic sensors, which allow it to localize footsteps and voices. It can then combine the locations of humans with its 3D map to guess what areas the humans might be able to see, and then does its best to stay hidden. Keeping to the shadows, the robot always maintains an escape route, and if it senses a human approaching, it will look for the deepest darkest corner it can find and then hold its virtual breath until the danger has passed.


Navy Wants Robot Swarm That Can Autonomously Build Stuff, Apocalypse Unlikely

Evan Ackerman  /  Tue, March 08, 2011

Back in July of 2009, we got our first look at AeroVironment’s excessively hummingbirdish nano air vehicle (NAV) as it went through tethered and untethered tests. The more capable Phase II version that DARPA asked for is now complete, and is demonstrating controlled indoor and outdoor flight, endurance flights, and precision hovering.


Japan unveils flying surveillance robot

Monday, November 08, 2010 Posted by Tim Hornyak

Japan’s military is working on a compact spy drone that can fly like a helicopter.

Teeny-Tiny Drone Fires Teeny-Tiny Missile (Gulp)

Spencer Ackerman, May 20, 2011

TAMPA, Florida — Never let it be said that small isn’t powerful. A Northern California company has just built commandos perhaps the smallest drone that can kill you. Underscoring the point, it’s even painted camouflage, like Stallone in Rambo.


Handheld Spy Drone Too Wimpy for Iraq’s Marines

Spencer Ackerman, May 12, 2011

When Marine companies in Iraq first got hold of the tiny spy plane known as the Raven in 2008, it seemed like a perfect fit. Iraq was a decentralized fight — a hundred tiny wars inside a single big one. So it made sense that platoon and company leaders would want an overhead view of their private war zone. Turns out the tiny spy drone was a little too flimsy and too precious — with too weak a battery –  to get excited about. The Raven was “valuable,” a study later concluded, but it wasn’t a game changer.


First Drone Strikes Since bin Laden Raid Hit Pakistan, Yemen

Spencer Ackerman, May 6, 2011

Just four days after the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden — and seized more than 100 discs, drives and computers from the al-Qaida hideout — the U.S. restarted its drone attacks on Pakistan. Then, mere hours earlier, drones hit Yemen for the first time in nearly nine years. Could this be the first result of intel taken from bin Laden’s thumb drives?


Drones Spray, Track the Unwilling in Air Force Plan

Adam Rawnsley, April 28, 2011

Here’s how the U.S. Air Force wants to hunt the next generation of its enemies: A tiny drone sneaks up to a suspect, paints him with an unnoticed powder or goo that allows American forces to follow him everywhere he goes — until they train a missile on him.


Pentagon: Robot War Over Libya Begins in 3, 2, 1

Spencer Ackerman, April 21, 2011

Moammar Gadhafi’s forces are killing Libyan civilians and pushing back rebel forces, NATO air strikes be damned. So it’s time to send in the drones. Thursday marks the end of the end of U.S. strike missions in Libya. In a press conference, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that armed Predator drones have been approved for use in Libya. They flew for the first time on Thursday, but “the weather wasn’t good enough, so we had to bring them back,” Cartwright said.


Did a Predator Just Kill Two U.S. Troops?

Adam Rawnsley, April 11, 2011

An American drone apparently killed two U.S. troops in Afghanistan last week in what may be a first-of-its-kind case of friendly fire. NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski writes that the strike killed a Marine Staff Sergeant and Navy corpsman while they were reinforcing Marines under fire from the Taliban in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The Marines reportedly saw the troops headed towards them through a Predator’s infrared camera, could not distinguish them from attacking Taliban and ordered in the Predator-borne Hellfire missile airstrike that killed the two men.


Navy Wants Doc-Bots, Robo-Ambulances

Adam Rawnsley, April 6, 2011

Not all of the military’s robot research goes into creating unfeeling killing machines. Some of them are here to heal, like the Navy’s plan to create a medical robot to treat troops carried by drones.


U.S. Drones Are Now Sniffing Mexican Drugs

Spencer Ackerman, March 16, 2011

Next, the narcocorridos will sing about the pilotless planes above the heads of their patrons. It used to be that the Department of Homeland Security flew drones over the U.S.-Mexican border to watch for illegal immigrants. That proliferation of military technology to a civilian mission isn’t without its share of malfunctions: Not only did the communications systems fritz out occasionally, but on at least one occasion, a small drone owned by the Mexican government crashed into an El Paso backyard.


Drones Set to Invade National, State Parks

Richard Wheeler, February 28, 2011

When I was a kid going to summer camp in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, I counted myself lucky if I saw a black bear once or twice in a season. But campers may soon be able to regularly see something bigger and badder when climbing the High Peaks: Reaper drones flown by the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Fighter Wing based in Syracuse, New York.


Is the Pentagon’s Drone Spending Spree Over?

Spencer Ackerman, February 14, 2011

If you manufacture unmanned spy planes, you might have expected more money out of the defense budget request unveiled today. The Pentagon is asking for barely more money in fiscal 2012 than Congress is currently providing it: $4.8 billion, despite what comptroller Robert Hale called an “insatiable demand” among the services for spy gear.


CIA Lawyer: How I Issued Drone ‘Death Warrants’

Spencer Ackerman, February 14, 2011

You can expect to see at least two people inside the secret bunkers in Virginia where the CIA pilots its lethal drones over Pakistan. One controls the distant drone, his hand on a joystick, ready to fire off a missile at a target below. Another is a CIA lawyer, watching to ensure that the operator is within his rights to attack his target. Call it a “punctilious” method to avoid civilian casualties and legal hot water, as one of those lawyers recently did — or call it the bureaucratization of a shadow war.


There’s No Hiding from New Breath-Detecting Robot

David Axe, February 7, 2011

America’s robots make deadly weapons. But there are countermeasures to even the most fearsome bot now in service. To avoid detection by aerial drones, Taliban fighters in Afghanistan have begun traveling in smaller groups. In his excellent book War, Sebastian Junger even describes Afghan fighters covering themselves with blankets on sun-warmed rocks to erase their infrared signatures, confounding the drones’ IR sensors.


One in 50 Troops in Afghanistan Is a Robot

David Axe, February 7, 2011

There are more than 2,000 ground robots fighting alongside flesh-and-blood forces in Afghanistan, according to Lt. Col. Dave Thompson, the Marine Corps’ top robot-handler. If his figures are right, it means one in 50 U.S. troops in Afghanistan isn’t even a human being. And America’s swelling ranks of groundbot warriors are being used in new, unexpected, life-saving ways



January 2011


Stats Back Al-Qaida Claim of Drone Pain

Spencer Ackerman, January 27, 2011

Is the U.S. drone war in Pakistan putting the squeeze on al-Qaida’s safe havens? It’s not a question that lends itself to easy answers, given the difficulties of reporting from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas where al-Qaida’s top leaders are believed to be. But a new statistical analysis by researchers at Harvard finds that the deadly robots overhead are reaping modest “counterterrorism dividends” — something that al-Qaida itself is complaining about.



Even DHS Is Freaked Out by Spy Drones Over America

Spencer Ackerman January 26, 2011

Police departments around the country are warming up to unmanned spy planes. But don’t expect the Department of Homeland Security to catch drone fever anytime soon. It’s too controversial for an agency already getting hammered for naked scanners and junk-touching.



Return of The ‘Beast of Kandahar’ Stealth Drone

Spencer Ackerman, January 25, 2011

It returns from the skies! Back in 2009, the Air Force confirmed that it had a mysterious stealth drone, the Lockheed RQ-170, flying over Kandahar in Afghanistan — the subject of much online speculation and grainy photography. Now, after something of a lull,  the Secret Projects forum has new pics of the drone that Ares aviation ace Bill Sweetman dubbed “The Beast of Kandahar.”



Will Israel Sell Russia Its Prized Monster Drone?

Spencer Ackerman, January 18, 2011

Israel and Russia: once Cold War enemies, now partners-in-drone. Only the Russians want Israel to let the Kremlin in on its most powerful unmanned spy plane.



December 2010

High-Flying Spy Drone, Powered By Liquid Coal

Jason Paur, November 24, 2010

No unmanned aircraft in the American arsenal flies higher or longer than the Global Hawk. On Tuesday, it soared high and long, powered by a blend of synthetic fuel. The Northrop-built drone touched down late Tuesday night at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California after spending more than a day aloft. Both the Navy and Air Force have flown numerous other aircraft using other non-traditional jet fuels, but this is both the first for an unmanned aircraft, and the first time any type of aircraft has flown with this type of fuel. JP-8 jet fuel (the kind typically used in the Air Force) was combined with a synthetic paraffinic kerosene derived from liqufied coal, and another derived from natural gas, to make up the blend.


Air Force on Secret Space Plane: Nothing to See Here, Move Along

David Axe, December 7, 2010

The Air Force has news for anyone looking for sinister motives behind the flying branch’s latest orbital gizmo: the mysterious, high-tech X-37B space plane. The 29-foot-long robotic shuttle — vaguely labeled a “test asset” by the Pentagon — returned to earth on Friday after 224 days, nine hours and 24 minutes in space. In those eight months, observers speculated that the X-37 might be a prototype bomber, a satellite-snatching snoop or a speedy, quick-reacting sensor platform. Forget it, Richard McKinney, Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs, said Monday. “I applaud the ingenuity and innovation of some reports, but really it’s as described. This is a test vehicle, pure and simple.” But a test vehicle for what? Well, for testing, McKinney said. The way he described it, the X-37 should eventually function as an orbital laboratory for new satellite components and other space gear — pricey stuff that today gets boosted into the heavens with very little realistic testing. “If we could place technology in orbit, check it out and bring back to earth, that would be significant accomplish,” he said. “The purpose of this particular mission was the vehicle. In order do the other things we talked about … we’ve got to have a vehicle to do that.” All the same, the X-37 did carry something in its payload bay during its inaugural flight — something secret, McKinney admitted. “It’s not unusual for us to put satellites into orbit that are classified. This is no different than that.”


WikiLeaks Reveals Everybody’s Christmas List: The World Wants Drones

Adam Rawnsley, November 29, 2010

Black Friday has passed, but the holidays are upon us and shopping days are increasingly few. Having a hard time finding the perfect gift for that tiny emirate hoping to psych out Iran or the large NATO ally looking to fight terrorism in Iraq? Fortunately for you, WikiLeaks has revealed the number one item atop seemingly everybody’s wish list: drones. Only a select few close American allies have the export-restricted Predator B (a.k.a. MQ-9 Reaper) armed drones, but that hasn’t stopped countries from the United Arab Emirates to Turkey from pestering & pleading with America to sell them the shiniest new toy, the WikiLeaks document show.



November 2010

Japan unveils flying surveillance robot

Monday, November 08, 2010 Posted by Tim Hornyak

Japan’s military is working on a compact spy drone that can fly like a helicopter.



This Design will KILL you


14 Nov 2010, Rog-a-matic, http://www.robots.net/

Yanko Design is featuring a Chris Rogers concept called the “Mega Hurtz Tactical Robot”. The remote-controlled robot works in conjunction with a virtual reality headset and sports a turrent-mounted non-lethal automatic weapon. The 280 pound machine can tow a Hummer, smash through a concrete wall, and run over your foot with ease. Mega Hurtz is suitable for SWAT teams, First Responders, and Search and Rescue operations. Gun-toting model and batteries not included.


Phantom Ray robot Stealth combat jet looks forward to trials

UberGizmo – ‎11/22/10

The Phantom Ray robot Stealth combat jet intends to place the US army ahead of the other nations, where trials of said jet are slated to begin.


Rise of the robots and the future of war

The Guardian – ‎Nov 20, 2010‎

For some military tasks, armed robots can already take care of themselves. The sides of many allied warships sport a Gatling gun as part of the Phalanx …


Robot snake is one enemy not to be trifled with

UberGizmo (blog) – ‎Nov 17, 2010‎

Trust the military to come up with high tech weapons that brings the world to its knees – this newest robotic snake from Israel already looks menacing on


Army’s Newest Bomb-Stopping Idea: ‘Intelligent’ Robo-Cart (with Arms)

Spencer Ackerman, November 16, 2010

The Army’s remote-controlled, bomb-finding robots aren’t finding enough bombs in Afghanistan. So the military is toying with a new notion: Let the robot drive itself; and make it bigger, like the size of a golf cart. In a recent solicitation for small businesses, the Army expresses interest in a remote-controlled vehicle that’s bigger than most robots but (way) smaller than its fleet of tactical vehicles. Really, it’s a software system outfitted with sensors for detecting a variety of bombs — “pressure activated devices and command detonated explosive devices” alike — that can turn an existing “mid-sized” vehicle into a self-driving or remotely-controlled car. The so-called “Intelligent Behavior Engine” has to support “skid steer hydraulic arm attachments” — Doctor Octopus-like robot arms, to defuse the bombs it finds. And it’s got to weigh between 500 and 3000 pounds (the size of a golf cart, Smart car, or John Deere Gator), making it hypothetically “capable of traversing long distances on narrow, rugged paths.”


Will Robo-Copters Carry Wounded Troops to Safety?

Spencer Ackerman, November 12, 2010

The next time Marines find themselves in a tight spot in any clime or place, they might make a quick call to a drone to ferry them out. And the Navy wants that communication to occur like David Hasselhof summoning Kitt: a Marine below talking to a robot above. As part of a call for research, the Navy says it wants a software package that can get troops barking orders to drones when things go wrong in a warzone — without relying on any remotely-situated pilots. “There is currently interest in the idea of using an Unmanned Air System (UAS) to deliver cargo to marines in the field or to provide casualty evacuation or extraction,” the solicitation reads.


Air Force Eyeing Microwave ‘E-Ray’ for Stealth Drones?

David Axe, November 11, 2010

Taking down an enemy’s air defenses — his radars, missile launchers and command centers — is a prerequisite for large-scale air campaigns. Today, jet fighters packing radar-seeking missiles do the heavy-lifting in the so-called “Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses” mission. In the future, that dangerous task might fall on stealthy drones armed with electronics-frying microwave weapons. That is, if the Air Force can ever get the combination to work. The drones are coming along just fine. The microwave weapons … not so much.


Bombs Away: Afghan Air War Peaks With 1,000 Strikes in October

Noah Shachtman, November 10, 2010

The U.S. and its allies have unleashed a massive air campaign in Afghanistan, launching missiles and bombs from the sky at a rate rarely seen since the war’s earliest days. In October alone, NATO planes fired their weapons on 1,000 separate missions, U.S. Air Force statistics provided to Danger Room show. Since Gen. David Petraeus took command of the war effort in late June, coalition aircraft have flown 2,600 attack sorties. That’s 50% more than they did during the same period in 2009. Not surprisingly, civilian casualties are on the rise, as well.


Robot Troops Will Follow Orders, Beat You at Rock, Paper, Scissors

Spencer Ackerman and Noah Shachtman, November 9, 2010

The military has a ton of ground robots scurrying around Afghanistan. Too bad they’re dumb as puppets, unable to make the slightest move without a human pulling the strings. But if the U.S. Navy has its way, all that will change. Robots will be able to obey a pointed finger or a verbal command, and then tackle a job without flesh-and-blood micromanagement. Which will free up the hundreds, if not thousands, of troops who today have to spend their time twiddling robot joysticks.


U.S. Army Pursues Nanosats and Microlaunchers on a Shoestring

Doug Mohney, October 29, 2010

Far away from Washington D.C., in the shadow of NASA’s Huntsville Saturn 5, the U.S. Army Space & Missile Defense Command is working on small, cheap nanosatellites for communications and imagery and an equally low-cost way to put them into orbit quickly. It’s a radical break from the past, but the Army wants rapidly responsive and flexible assets that it can launch on short notice to support warfighting, peacekeeping, and humanitarian operations — and cheap enough to be essentially “throwaways.…


IAI Offers New Ultralight MiniPOP Payload for UAVs

Nov 01, 2010 Robotics Trends Staff

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is introducing the newest member of its MiniPOP (plug-in optronic payload) family: the Ultralight MiniPOP. The new lightweight MiniPOP payload is manufactured using lightweight metals, including magnesium and titanium. The MiniPOP is designed to be used by small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which demand long endurance, and by special ground forces for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISTAR) missions. The system can be handled and operated by a single soldier.


Drones Get Ready to Fly, Unseen, Into Everyday Life

WSJ, 11/03/10

Personal drones aren’t yet plying U.S. flyways. But an arms race is building among people looking to track celebrities, unfaithful… In early 2010, Senior Airman Cassie McQuade was all alone in an isolated corner of Bagram air field, NATO’s main base in Afghanistan. As the sole airman assigned to a team of civilian contractors from Boeing subsidiary Insitu, it was McQuade’s job to analyze video streams pumped into her trailer by the team’s fleet of low-flying ScanEagle drones used to spot threats to Bagram. “The hardest part is determining what is suspicious and what we are looking for,” she told me. The long, dark shape in a man’s arms could be a shovel — or a rocket launcher. Men digging by the side of the road could be repairing a culvert or planting a bomb. Telling the difference required training, practice … and intuition. With more and more drone-provided video pouring into Pentagon servers — “24 years’ worth if watched continuously” just in 2009, according to The New York Times – the Air Force in particular is struggling to train up enough analysts like McQuade to sift through it all. Their job is made more difficult by the raw nature of most video feeds. Watching untagged video is like “tuning in to a football game without all the graphics,” one industry executive told The Times.


Learning Computers to Help Humans Scour Drone Footage

David Axe, November 5, 2010

In early 2010, Senior Airman Cassie McQuade was all alone in an isolated corner of Bagram air field, NATO’s main base in Afghanistan. As the sole airman assigned to a team of civilian contractors from Boeing subsidiary Insitu, it was McQuade’s job to analyze video streams pumped into her trailer by the team’s fleet of low-flying ScanEagle drones used to spot threats to Bagram. “The hardest part is determining what is suspicious and what we are looking for,” she told me. The long, dark shape in a man’s arms could be a shovel — or a rocket launcher. Men digging by the side of the road could be repairing a culvert or planting a bomb. Telling the difference required training, practice … and intuition. With more and more drone-provided video pouring into Pentagon servers — “24 years’ worth if watched continuously” just in 2009, according to The New York Times – the Air Force in particular is struggling to train up enough analysts like McQuade to sift through it all. Their job is made more difficult by the raw nature of most video feeds. Watching untagged video is like “tuning in to a football game without all the graphics,” one industry executive told The Times.


Northrop Arms Its Robot Pack Mule With Big G

Spencer Ackerman, October 27, 2010

JJon Anderson has seen a lot of gawkers pause at his Northrop Grumman booth in the Association of the U.S. Army’s Washington conference. Not that he’s odd-looking or off-putting: He’s a gregarious guy. The stares he’s getting are about the .50-caliber M2 machine gun he’s got mounted on a treaded robot — something Northrop isn’t even selling right now. “Quite frankly,” explains Anderson, a Northrop advanced-systems employee with short white hair and a whiter smile, “a weapon on a robot brings people into the booth.” That it does. For the past few years, Northrop has produced a treaded, 60-inch robot vehicle to help troops haul their gear called the Carry-all Mechanized Equipment Landrover, or CaMEL. It’s like a more traditional version of the BigDog robot — a simple flat, motorized platform that putters along at up to 7 miles per hour while taking on up to 1,200 pounds of stuff. Northrop has sold more than 60 of them to the Israeli military; and recently, the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning expressed interest in the CaMEL as a hauler.


Army’s Drones Get New Add-Ons: Radars, Self-Landing, Cellular Coverage [Updated]

Spencer Ackerman, October 26, 2010

It’s not that the unpiloted aircraft that the Army flies aren’t already tricked out. Some of them carry the latest surveillance systems and powerful missiles. But some companies at the Association of the U.S. Army convention in Washington D.C. figure that the drone fleet needs some upgrades. The box above? That’s a guidance system to make sure that a malfunctioning drone can land safely on the spot that a unit directs it — essentially, something that makes an unmanned plane really independent of human control. There’s also radar gear to give drones a better line of sight down to the ground for airborne spying. Need cellular coverage in the middle of nowhere? Hook a few pods up to the bottom of a drone, send it aloft, and start tweeting again.



Army’s WALL-E Robo-Scout Patrols D.C. Confab


Spencer Ackerman, October 25, 2010

The Army isn’t about to be upstaged at its own party by its contractors. Inside a pseudo-base set up on the floor of the sprawling Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington D.C.’s convention center is Forward Operating Base Modernization, a set-piece military version of Disney’s Carousel of Progress. Only the Army’s equivalent has models of synced-up soldier gear and a 32-pound motorized robot on treads designed to go into dangerous places troops can’t. This WALL-E-looking creature is the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle, or SUGV, a cousin of iRobot’s Packbots. When last we checked in on it, the Army was testing the SUGV at Fort Bliss to see if it makes sense for infantry use. Testing continues. But the glee with which Army officials showed it off for reporters — and its pride of place in the Army’s brochure for modernization — suggests that the service really, really wants it to work.



Autonomous underwater robot hits the waves (photos)


November 03, 2010, Jennifer Guevin

An advanced undersea vehicle promises to take oceanic research to a new level, going faster and farther than its predecessors–and even doing some thinking of its own.


Israeli developed robots can spot and shoot terrorists

Globes – ‎Nov 3, 2010‎

Former Israel Security Agency agent Amos Goren claims his robots can detect threats before the human brain does. Robots developed by a former Israel



October 2010

DARPA Seeking to Revolutionize Robotic Manipulation

Erico Guizzo  /  Mon, October 18, 2010

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, unveiled last month an ambitious program to significantly advance robotic manipulation. The four-year Autonomous Robotic Manipulation, or ARM, program aims at developing both software and hardware that would enable robots to autonomously perform complex tasks with humans providing only high-level direction. This being DARPA, the tasks include things like disarming bombs and finding guns in gym bags. But as it’s happened with other DARPAinitiatives, the program could have a broader impact in non-military robotics as well.



50 Leading Robotics Organizations are Set and Ready to Demo during U.S. Army “Robotics Rodeo” at Fort Benning


RIA, 10/18/2010

For the second consecutive year, the U.S. Army has invited prominent robotics technologists from across the country to display their …


Feds Plot ‘Near Human’ Robot Docs, Farmers, Troops

Katie Drummond, October 22, 2010

Robots are already vacuuming our carpets, heading into combat and assisting docs on medical procedures. Get ready for a next generation of “near human” bots that’ll do a lot more: independently perform surgeries, harvest our crops and herd our livestock, and even administer drugs from within our own bodies. Those are only a few of the suggested applications for robots in a massive new federal research program. The military’s blue-sky research arm, Darpa, is pairing up with four other agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the United States Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Homeland Security, to launch a major push that’d revolutionize robotic capabilities and put bots pretty much everywhere, from hospitals to dude ranches to “explosive atmospheres.” In a single mega-solicitation for small business proposals, the agencies note that robotics technology is “poised for explosive growth,” thanks to rapid improvements in microprocessing, algorithms and sensors. Of course, Darpa’s been behind much of the progress. The agency has already launched programs to create a real-life C3PO, a bot that can match human intellect and a four-legged BigDog robo-beast. Not to mention the organization’s ongoing research into cognition and neural control, including efforts to map monkey minds to yield neurally controlled prosthetics.


Friends Made in Low Places: Swat Teams Adopt Tiny Reconnaissance Robots

JOE BARRETT, 10/18/10

For years, military and police bomb squads have used large robots to help investigate suspicious objects without putting…


Boeing to Offer A160T Hummingbird in Response to NAVAIR RFP

The RFP calls for government-owned, contractor-operated UAS services for the U.S. Marines.

By Robotics Trends Staff – Filed Oct 15, 2010

The Boeing Company is preparing to offer a solution based on the world record-setting A160T Hummingbird unmanned rotorcraft in response to the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command’s Request for Proposal (RFP) for Cargo Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) Services. The RFP calls for government-owned, contractor-operated UAS services for the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan.

Robot weapons creating human enemies

ABC Online – Lisa Millar – ‎Oct 18, 2010‎

There are fears America’s growing reliance on unmanned drones may be creating more enemies than they kill.


Darpa to Teen Geeks: Build Us Better Robots

Katie Drummond, September 30, 2010

Darpa’s got ambitious goals when it comes to revolutionizing the outmoded, expensive process of defense manufacturing. The Pentagon’s blue-sky research arm wants fast-tracked timelines and widespread collaboration, all facilitated by web 2.0. And they’re looking to assemble an army of teenaged brains to help them do it.

New Poll: Pakistanis Hate the Drones, Back Suicide Attacks on U.S. Troops

Spencer Ackerman, September 30, 2010

The CIA can kill militants all day long. If the drone war in Pakistan drives the local people into al Qaeda’s arms, it’ll be failure. A new poll of the Pakistani tribal areas, released this morning, suggests that could easily wind up happening. Chalk one up for drone skeptics like counterinsurgent emeritus David Kilcullen and ex-CIA Director Michael Hayden. Only 16 percent of respondents to a new poll sponsored by the drone-watchers at the New America Foundation say that the drone strikes “accurately target militants.” Three times that number say they “largely kill civilians.”

CIA Chief Warned Obama in ‘09: Drone Strikes Won’t Win War

Noah Shachtman, September 28, 2010

In early 2009, counterinsurgency gurus David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum aired their concerns that American drone strikes in Pakistan might not be all that productive — a tactic for knocking off individual terrorists, maybe, not a strategy for wiping out Al Qaeda’s haven. The pair caught all kinds of flak from military and intelligence officials for the suggestion. But months earlier, we now learn, the director of the CIA was expressing similar reservations to the White House. Overlooked in the hoopla over naming calling and secret memos, there are vignettes in Bob Woodward’s new book of officials at the highest levels discussing the drone campaign’s severe limitations. Most startlingly, the person with the deepest concerns about the CIA’s signature effort of the terror war appears to be Gen. Michael Hayden, the Agency’s one-time director.


60 Dead as Helos, Drones Strike in Pakistan (But Don’t Call it a War)

Noah Shachtman, September 27, 2010

U.S. officials don’t like calling what’s going on in Pakistan a war. But the American-led conflict, whatever name you give it, has never been this violent. The drone component of the campaign hit a new high over the weekend — 20 attacks in September alone, killing as many as 101 people. Today, NATO confirmed that a pair of its helicopters, based in Afghanistan, chased militant suspects across the border. 53 more are now reported dead.


These Are the Robotic Sentinels Guarding the Largest Nuke Site in the United States

10/04/10, Jesus Diaz

Fully automated robots now guard the Nevada National Security Site. There, the military ignited over a thousand nukes, including the largest atmospheric nuclear test in the history of continental United States. They are called the MDARS.



September 2010

CIA Snitches Are Pakistan Drone-Spotters

Spencer Ackerman, September 23, 2010

How the CIA managed to expand its drone war so far and so fast has been a bit of a mystery. Now we have part of the answer: a network of Pashtun snitches, operating out of eastern Afghanistan, that infiltrate militant networks across the border. The information they collect helps direct the drones. Sometimes the targets are U.S. citizens.

Drone Strikes Peak; Can They Help End the War?

Noah Shachtman, September 15, 2010

Welcome to the new peak of America’s remote-controlled war in Pakistan. On Wednesday, U.S. drones hit their third target in 24 hours and their 12th attack in the last 13 days. That’s the highest number of robotic attacks in a single month since the drone campaign began. And there’s still a half-month to go.

The drones’ targeting decisions are highly classified. But there are indications that behind the lethal barrage, there may be a peaceful motive: helping bring about a negotiated settlement to the Afghanistan war.


Robot warfare: campaigners call for tighter controls of deadly drones

The Guardian – ‎Sep 16, 2010‎

The rapid proliferation of military drone planes and armed robots should be subject to international legal controls, conferences in London and Berlin will argue this month. Public awareness of attacks by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as Reapers and Predators, in Afghanistan and Pakistan has grown but less is known of the evolution of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs). Two conferences – Drone Wars in London on 18 September and a three-day workshop organised by the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) in Berlin on 20-22 September – will hear calls for bans and for tighter regulation under international arms treaties.


US Special Ops robot whispercopter crashes in Belize

Military Technologies (blog) – ‎Sep 14, 2010‎

Tests by the US special forces of a radical, new-technology robot helicopter equipped with a radar intended to penetrate jungle canopies from above,


Patriotic snake robot slithers up a tree

September 03, 2010, Leslie Katz

For its latest trick, Uncle Sam, a Snakebot from Carnegie Mellon University, slithers out of the lab and up a tree, where it looks around with its camera-enabled head.

Why Bomb-Proofing Robots Might Be a Bad Idea (Updated)

Noah Shachtman, September 2, 2010

Five years ago, troops in Iraq were lucky if they had a bomb-stopping jammer in their Humvee. Now, one company wants to outfit robots with the electronic countermeasures, to keep the machines safe from remotely-detonated explosives. But you’ve got to wonder whether outfitting the ‘bots with another $100,000 in classified tech kind of undermines the purpose of having a disposable army of machines to handle irregular war’s most dangerous work. Qinetiq North America, makers of the Talon bomb-disposal robot, floated the concept at conference in Denver, Danger Room co-founder Sharon Weinberger reports. The idea would be to strap a Thor portable jammer (.pdf) onto the 125-pound, three-foot tall robot. Over 2,800 of the remote-controlled machines have been deployed to warzones around the world, picking up (and blowing up) improvised explosives, so the flesh-and-blood bomb squad can stay safely far away. In the process, thousands of Qinetiq’s and rival iRobot’s machines have been wounded in action — or destroyed entirely. In Iraq, the robots’ sacrifices became so well-known that the insurgents started target the machines, in order to draw out their human operators. (In Baghdad, for instance, I saw one ‘bot narrowly escape a pair of rocket-propelled grenades.) So there’s a logic to protecting these robots, by giving them the safety of a radio-frequency jammer. The $108,000 devices interrupt the signals that insurgents use to set off the bombs from afar.

U.S. Escalates Air War Over Afghanistan

Noah Shachtman, August 30, 2010

There may not be quite as many bombs falling from the sky. But don’t let that fool you. The United States has dramatically escalated its air war over Afghanistan. Spy plane flights have nearly tripled in the past year; supply drops, too. There are even more planes buzzing over the heads of troops caught in firefights (.pdf), according to statistics provided to Danger Room by the Air Force (.pdf). The increased numbers show how the American military has retooled its most potent technological advantage — dominance of the skies — for the Afghanistan campaign. But so far, at least, the boost in air power doesn’t seem to have shifted the war’s momentum back to the American-led coalition. An influx of Reaper drones and executive-jets-turned-spy-planes allowed U.S. forces to fly 9,700 surveillance sorties over Afghanistan in the first seven months of 2010. Last year, American planes conducted 3,645 of the flights during a similar period.

Starting Today, the Entire U.S./Mexico Border Is Drone-Patrolled

Kyle VanHemert, 09/01/10, Gizmodo

Yesterday, there were three Predator drones keeping watch over the Southwest Border; today, with the launch of a fourth Predator, in Texas, the entire border between the United States and Mexico is patrolled by drones. Pardon, patrolled by Robot-Americans.

Israel, Russia in Drone Deal; Laser Tech Next?

Noah Shachtman, September 7, 2010

First, Israel will beef up Russia’s robotic air force. Down the road, perhaps, Vladimir Putin may return the favor, by equipping Israeli drones with Russian laser tech. On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, signed a first-of-its kind military agreement between the two countries. It’s the latest step towards cooperation for two countries that have traditionally been at each other’s throats. In 2009, Moscow bought a dozen Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles — two Bird Eye 400 systems, eight I-View MK150 tactical UAVs and two Searcher Mk II tactical short range UAVs, according to the well-connected Defense Update. That was after Georgia relied on Israeli spy drones during the South Ossetia War.

Darpa Wants to Create Brainiac Bot Tots

Katie Drummond, September 10, 2010

A Pentagon-funded scientist has come up with a comprehensive program to turn today’s robots into tomorrow’s A.I. overlords. Step one: Imbue them with toddler-level intelligence. Step two: Run them through a “cognitive decathlon” of tests. And finally, use programmed learning abilities and human instruction to turn bot tots into supersmart A.I. agents “that [can] learn and be taught like a human.” Darpa, the Pentagon’s far-out research arm, wants robots that can outdo (or at least match) human smarts, from data analysis to C3P0-esque language translation. Advanced A.I. was also the overarching goal of their Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures, or BICA, program, which sought to mimic the physiological and neurological elements of the human mind.

Trust: Greatest Obstacle To UAV Autonomy

Aviation Week – Graham Warwick – ‎Sep 10, 2010‎

Autonomy is at the end of a spectrum of increasing automation, and increasing complexity that automation can deal with, says Air Force Research Laboratory …

August 2010

At Robot Show, Future of Warfare Is on Display

AOL News – ‎Aug 27, 2010‎

DENVER (Aug. 27) — From robotic insects that can crawl and fly to spy drones that look and move like real hummingbirds, the future of warfare was on


Drones Surge, Special Ops Strike in Petraeus Campaign Plan

Spencer Ackerman, August 18, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ever since the Afghanistan war became a counterinsurgency fight, critics have charged that commanders’ cautions about using force only inhibit the fight against the Taliban. But in the shadows, NATO Special Operations Forces are engaged in an intensely lethal war of their own.

Automation Alley puts focus on defense work

The Detroit News – Louis Aguilar – ‎Aug 20, 2010‎

Automation Alley, the state’s largest technology consortium, is stepping up efforts to nab more work in homeland and border security for Michigan companies.

US military to covertly deliver payloads with robot rockets

DVICE – Kevin Hall – ‎Aug 20, 2010‎

Called the V-Bat, the rocket-shaped robot is able to take off vertically like a Harrier jet, and can autonomously proceed to its destinatio


Iran’s Robotic ‘Ambassador of Death’ is More Envoy of Annoyance (Updated)

Noah Shachtman, August 23, 2010

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad skipped onto a stage yesterday, drew back a blue curtain, unveiled a shiny gold drone, and pronounced it an “ambassador of death” to Tehran’s foes. So does that mean Tel Aviv should be worried about Iranian robo-bombings? At the moment, probably not. Not only does the drone have an announced range of 600 or so miles — short of the Israeli border. Here’s a little secret, dear readers: Iran sometimes tries to bullshit the world about its arsenal. Shhh! Pass it on According to the official word from Tehran, the 13-foot Karrar (’striker”) drone is capable of carrying four cruise missiles. That’s really unlikely. Even smaller-sized cruise missiles, like the Russian Kh-135s, weigh a more than a thousand pounds and are about nine feet long; it’s tough to imagine a relative pipsqueak like the Karrar lugging such a hefty package. [Update: As Pirouz notes in the comments, Iran calls its anti-ship missiles, like the Chinese C-701, “cruise missiles.” Those are compact enough for drone duty.] State television later claimed that the Karrar could carry a pair of 250-pound bombs or a single 500-pounder. That’s more believable (although the single bomb the drone is carrying in the video above looks more like a 250-pound model to me). Iran has been making its own drones for a while; the U.S. even shot one down over Iraq last year. Since 2004, a small number of those unmanned aerial vehicles have made their way into Hezbollah’s hands. This, however, would be Iran’s first armed robo-plane. In so doing, state television crows, “Iran broke the military advantage of America” — and prepped the country for the looming days of all-robot warfare. That should arrive around 2020, the Iranian Defense Ministry guesstimates.


Register – Lewis Page – ‎Aug 26, 2010‎

A software error, combined with an unfortunate user action, led to a US military robot helicopter – developed from a manned version and capable of carrying a fearsome arsenal of weapons – straying into restricted airspace near Washington DC, according to reports.


Show features drones, robots; provides new hints about future of war

CNN – Charley Keyes, Reynolds Wolf -Aug 26

Denver, Colorado (CNN) — It was a glimpse into the future, when convoys rumble toward the battlefield without a driver behind the wheel, aircraft soar without pilots on board and robots glide forward to fight with machine guns and grenade launchers, all the while beaming back video. Hundreds of displays at the Colorado Convention Center this week in Denver allowed the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) to show off its sharpest designs and latest inventions. Some of these machines already are on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, giving eye-in-the-sky views of the battlefield, locating hidden roadside bombs or crawling through dangerous terrain. But other machines are brand new, with their designers pitching to investors and military buyers. “Robotics and unmanned systems save lives and save money,” AUVSI president Michael Toscano says as he looks over the exhibit hall. The giant Global Hawk unmanned aircraft sits at the far end of the hall, its 110-foot wingspan dwarfing much smaller planes and robots.


Chico State program making cheap robot

Enterprise-Record – ‎Aug 23, 2010‎

CHICO — Providing the military with a robot it can afford to lose in combat is the aim of a program at Chico State University headed by Nick Repanich,


Airport police use growing fleet of robots to ferret out bombs

Atlanta Journal Constitution – Kelly Yamanouchi – Aug 1, 2010

API Technologies The teleMAX Explosive Ordnance Disposal robot that will be added to the fleet of bomb-detection robots at Hartsfield-Jackson International

Special Operations’ Robocopter Spotted in Belize (Corrected)

Olivia Koski, August 9, 2010, Wired DangerRoom

Watch out, humans, the U.S. military has released an all-seeing, unmanned helicopter-like aircraft into the wild, according to Aviation Week. The Boeing A160T Hummingbird was photographed in Belize, where it was test flying a tree-penetrating Darpa radar called FORESTER. Locals were given a heads-up thanks to a press release from the U.S. Embassy. There’s no sign of the document on the website, but local reports say that the the Belize government invited the U.S. to test the Hummingbird in a mountain range 25 miles from the Guatemalan border. A few dozen military personnel – both Belizean and American – are involved in the testing, which will last until September. U.S. Special Operations Command got its new gear in November of 2008, but at the time the unmanned hovering aircraft couldn’t see through trees. The synthetic-aperture radar now onboard is designed to detect slow moving people and vehicles – even if they’re hiding in dense foliage. It enables super high resolution imaging by using the motion of the helicopter to create an artificially large aperture. As if the unmanned A160T platform, which can fly 2,500 nautical miles for 24 hours at up to 30,000 feet, wasn’t high tech enough. The Hummingbird represents a completely new approach to helicopter design, with a special adjustable-speed rotor enabling it to be super quiet.

Navy Works to Laser-Proof Its Drones

Noah Shachtman, Wired DangerRoom, August 2, 2010

In May and June, the U.S. Navy sent four drones crashing into the Pacific Ocean, after blasting them with a prototype laser weapon. If follow-up tests are successful, there’s a chance the ray gun might be ready for deployment some time around 2016. Other countries’ energy weapons will come years afterward — if they ever come at all. But the Navy isn’t taking any chances. It’s pushing ahead with research to laser-proof its drones, just in case anyone else has the bright idea of using ray guns to down America’s robot planes.

U. engineers’ robot climbs efficiently — like an ape

Brian Maffly, The Salt Lake Tribune, Aug 13, 2010

A gibbon moves through the forest so efficiently, swinging from branch to branch in a motion called brachiation, because it captures the energy from each swing to drive the next one, while keeping its body almost still. University of Utah engineers applied that same principle to enhance the efficiency of climbing robots in a breakthrough that could lead to new remote-controlled surveillance and inspection technologies. The U.’s Oscillating Climbing Robot, or ROCR (aptly pronounced “rocker”), holds potential for evaluating the safety of bridges, nuclear reactor cooling towers, dams and other structures with inaccessible faces, according to lead developer William Provancher, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering.


Is This Flying Drone Google’s Next Privacy Controversy? Update: Google Says No

Andy Greenberg

Update: A Google spokesperson writes that Google hasn’t purchased and is not testing any Microdrones: “This was a purchase by a Google executive with an interest in robotics for personal use.”If you felt that Google Street View violated your privacy, wait until you’ve got one of these hovering over your back porch. The German business magazine Wirtschaftswoche reported over the weekend that Microdrones, a company based in the city of Siegen, Germany, has sold at least one of its flying surveillance robots to the search giant for testing. Sven Juerss, Microdrones’ chief executive, told the magazine that the radio-controlled devices–four rotor helicopters about a meter across–could be helpful in Google’s mapping projects, and that he think there’s a good chance Google will buy more of the airborne bots.

Deploying Drones in U.S. Skies

Morgan Bettex– Filed Jul 22, 2010

Nicholas Roy, associate professor in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and director of the Robust Robotics Group, discusses the challenges of incorporating unmanned aerial vehicles into commercial airspace.

In June, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) agreed to expand flights of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, along the Texas-Mexico border for surveillance purposes. Although unmanned aircraft have been used extensively by the military in Afghanistan and Iraq, the FAA has been hesitant to issue flying rights for the pilotless vehicles in the U.S. other than on a case-by-case basis, such as for border patrol. Last year, the agency promised defense officials it would unveil a plan for regulating unmanned planes this year, and it recently opened a new lab to explore how air traffic control systems can control unmanned aircraft for civilian and law-enforcement purposes. As the FAA appears to make progress with regulating UAVs, MIT News sat down with Nicholas Roy, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and director of the Robust Robotics Group, to discuss the challenges involved with flying unmanned planes across America.


BAE reveals UK’s first combat robot aircraft

Financial Times – Sylvia Pfeifer – ‎Jul 12, 2010‎

Robot wars came a step closer after BAE Systems unveiled the UK’s first unmanned aircraft that can pilot itself and strike targets as far away as Afghanistan. Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder, is about the size of a Hawk trainer jet. The unmanned combat air vehicle, or UCAV, could have wide ramifications for Britain’s military aircraft industry, eventually replacing manned jets, such as the Tornado. It will be the first “stealthy” roboplane, or “drone”, designed to make it difficult for enemy radar to detect. It can carry out intelligence and surveillance on enemy territory, but it also carries weapons with which to attack ground targets. It can be controlled from anywhere in the world via satellite communications.


Boeing Unveils Unmanned Phantom Eye Demonstrator

By Robotics Trends Staff – Filed Jul 26, 2010

Hydrogen powered unmanned airborne system designed to fly at altitudes of up to 65,000 feet for up to four days. The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA] unveiled the hydrogen-powered Phantom Eye unmanned airborne system, a demonstrator that will stay aloft at 65,000 feet for up to four days. “Phantom Eye is the first of its kind and could open up a whole new market in collecting data and communications,” Darryl Davis, president of Boeing Phantom Works, said today at the unveiling ceremony in St. Louis. “It is a perfect example of turning an idea into a reality. It defines our rapid prototyping efforts and will demonstrate the art-of-the-possible when it comes to persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The capabilities inherent in Phantom Eye’s design will offer game-changing opportunities for our military, civil and commercial customers.”


Army building robotic tentacles to handle IEDs

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 Posted by Tim Hornyak, cnet.com

The military is developing snakelike tentacle robots to manipulate IEDs and take part in search and rescue missions. Cobra Commander would be pleased.


Robot Toyota lift truck performs unmanned tasks

Thursday, July 22, 2010 Posted by Suzanne Ashe, cnet.com

The U.S. Army Logistics Innovation Agency hosted demonstrations at Fort Lee, in Virginia, of an MIT-developed prototype unmanned robotic Toyota lift truck.


At iRobot, moving way beyond the Roomba

Thursday, July 15, 2010 Posted by Daniel Terdiman, cnet.com

Road Trip 2010: CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman stops in on the maker of the hit robotic vacuum cleaner and learns what the company has in store for the future of military and home robotics.


Air Force Wants Drones to Sense Other Planes’ ‘Intent’

Spencer Ackerman July 23, 2010, Wired Danger Room

Unmanned aircraft, for all their utility, are fairly simple beasts. They’re good at taking direction, but they’re not so good at processing information on their own. Now the Air Force figures it’s time for drones to get a lot smarter, especially as they take off or land. As anyone who’s ever flown knows, the runway is a crowded place. Planes on the runway queue up to get airborne. Planes in the air have to coordinate with Air Traffic Control for the order in which they can safely land, taking precautions not to get in anyone’s way until it’s their turn. There’s a fair amount of information to rapidly process in order to avoid collisions and other accidents. Pilots can handle that information load. Drones can’t. Yet. It’s one of the big reasons why the Federal Aviation Administration has been so reluctant to allow unmanned aircraft to fly over the U.S. Even robotic flights over relatively unpopulated areas along the southern border have been canceled when there’s the most routine technical hiccups. On Tuesday, the Air Force Research Laboratory at Ohio’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base said it’ll soon solicit engineers to design an algorithm to allow drones to “integrate seamlessly” with piloted planes for takeoff and landing. In the algorithm-driven future that the labs want to build, drones will be equipped a database of terminal procedures; link up with Air Traffic Control; and “recognize the intent of other aircraft.”


Killer Drones Get Stealthy

Noah Shachtman, July 19, 2010, Wired DangerRoom

Today’s killer drones are sitting ducks. Loud, slow-moving, and simple to spot, any air defense more potent than a militant with an AK is liable to take one of the robotic planes down. But the next generation of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) won’t be the airborne equivalent of fish in a barrel. They’ll fly faster and higher than the current drone crop. And they’ll be somewhat stealthy, as well. Take the Avenger UCAV, unveiled last year by General Atomic Aeronautical Systems, the company behind the Predator and Reaper drones. With a 41-foot long fuselage and 66-foot wingspan, the Avenger is capable of staying in the air for up to 20 hours, and operating at up to 50,000 feet. Powered by a 4,800-lb. thrust Pratt & Whitney PW545B jet engine, it can fly at over 400 knots — 50 percent faster than the turboprop-powered Reaper unmanned plane, and more than three times as quick as the Predator. General Atomics says the first Avenger is now flying two to three times a week. “Over the past 15-plus months, only one launch has been canceled due to parts and/or maintenance,” the company notes in a statement. A second and third Avenger are now in production. It’ll be a little longer than the first — 44 feet — and able to haul a 6,000 pound payload. That’s a 50 percent improvement over what the Reaper can carry.



July 2010

Korean machine-gun robots start DMZ duty

Tim Hornyak · Wed Jul 14 2010 – CNET

Samsung’s SGR-1 robot has already starred in an action film. Now the machine gun-toting badass is taking on intruders along Korea’s DMZ.


Countries Look To Robot Armies For Border Defense

Huffington Post (blog) – Jul 14, 2010

He says we could have underground robots that will pop up and give border-crossers heart attacks. They could be forty feet tall, breathe fire and look like …


South Korea’s DMZ Sentry Robot Is Licensed to Kill

There are few borders more heavily guarded than the one dividing North and South Korea. That became even more true last month, when Seoul stationed a a heat-, voice-, and motion-detecting surveillance robot in the Demilitarized Zone. With guns.


Lockheed Using Gravity to Spot ‘Subterranean Threats’

Katie Drummond, July 15, 2010  | 

The military could soon be hunting for terror threats using detailed maps of the planet’s subterranean territory — thanks to aerial vehicles that tap into the “anomalous gravity signature[s]” of structures built beneath the earth’s surface. Lockheed Martin has received a $4.8 million, 12-month contract to create a prototype sensor that spots, categorizes and maps man-made facilities concealed underground. And does it all from the safety of the sky, embedded in a drone and linked to cameras that’d stream the data in real-time.


In a First, Full-Sized Robo-Copter Flies With No Human Help

Olivia Koski July 14, 2010

In mid-June, a single-turbine helicopter took off from a test field in Mesa, Arizona, avoided obstacles during flight, scoped out a landing site and landed safely. It’s the kind of flight choppers have made tens of thousands of times before. Except this time, the helicopter did it entirely on its own — with no humans involved. It was the first fully autonomous flight of a full-sized chopper, ever.


Hydrogen-Powered Drone Could Be The iPad of Spy Planes

Spencer Ackerman, July 13, 2010

It can stay aloft in the stratosphere for up to four days, powered by hydrogen. It can carry up to 450 lbs. worth of spy gear And it sounds like a Bond villain. Meet the Phantom Eye. Its manufacturer thinks it could be the iPad of unmanned aerial vehicles. At a time when much of drone tech is shrinking, the Phantom Eye is a big mother. It’s got a 150-foot wingspan. The thing itself — unveiled by Boeing today — relies on two 2.3 liter, four cylinder engines that create 150 horsepower each, according to a company press release, allowing it to cruise at 150 knots. But the company didn’t specify much about its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, aside from issuing a vague quote assuring that the Phantom Eye “could open up a whole new market in collecting data and communications.” So why is it an iPad-esque potential game-changer? For one thing, check that longevity. The Air Force’s Global Hawk (Manufacturer: Northrup Grumman) remotely-piloted drone can match the Phantom Eye’s 65,000-foot max altitude. But the Global Hawk has a maximum flight time of 30 hours. General Atomics’ Predator — often the last thing that al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in northwest Pakistan see — can only fly up to 25,000 feet, but it can stay in the sky for up to 40 hours. Boeing told Aviation Week that it’s shooting for a 96 hour flight from the Phantom Eye next spring.


Darpa Plots Death From Above, On-Demand

Noah Shachtman, July 12, 2010

Before a bomb gets dropped in Afghanistan, dozens of people weigh in: Air controllers bark coordinates over a radio; officers double-check the target’s location against digital maps; pilots survey the scene with cameras from on high; far-flung intelligence analysts scour the plane’s footage and discuss it in a secure chat room; military lawyers make sure the strike complies with the rules of war; commanders weigh the potential combat benefits of a bomb against the risks of civilian deaths. Darpa would like to cut out all those middle men. Instead, the Pentagon’s R&D arm wants to build an air strike network with exactly two nodes: the air controller on the ground, and the robotic, heavily-armed airplane in the sky. Darpa calls the project Persistent Close Air Support, or PCAS. Think of it as death-from-above — on demand.