Who needs a face or a tail to tell the world what it’s doing?
At a recent Defense Industry Association conference in Orlando, Fla., armed with a sniper rifle, a French shepherd-style droid demonstrated its ability to detect both enemy aircraft and the Pentagon’s human-toting B-1 bomber.
When a B-1 took off in front of the mock military drone, it hesitated for a beat. From its perch, the dog-man platform summoned a teammate and sprayed area bombs with force. But the deadly object that licked the dog’s face was not the B-1 bomber; it was a fake one.
Just like humans, the robot does not like to be hurt — even a mock one. When one of the robot dogs is being tested, it does not run off to harm another pet. Instead, it hands off the completed mission to a human handler stationed farther away.
“There is a distinct difference in behavioral assessments between a drone and a real dog. A dog is probably faster to react, but there are still concerns about losing situational awareness. Also, the situational awareness of a dog is extremely good; they have a very good sense of smell, and the sense of fear can be tremendous,” said Brian Sharps, chief development officer for Rethink Robotics.
And the job of a robot dog is not limited to detecting B-1 bombers. Eventually, Sharps, who collaborated with a retired French language teacher named Ulrich Lang, said the robot “could take on a variety of tasks not well done by other non-human capabilities, from taking on criminal jobs, like detecting explosives or packages, to patrolling, acting as a hunter, and even fighting in combat.”