Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Robots take centre stage in U.S. war in Afghanistan

The U.S. military is deploying the robots to Afghanistan to navigate the country's treacherous terrain.
Called BigDogs, these robots are being deployed in addition to big guns.
The BigDogs - four-legged robots that can navigate the country's treacherous terrain - and pilotless helicopters than can transport tons of supplies to very remote bases are just two of the new weapons being tested in Afghanistan, reports Fox News.
The machine's creator, Boston Dynamics, has a motto - "dedicated to the way things move" - and that's precisely what is both jarring and fascinating about its invention.
Using a gasoline engine that emits an eerie lawnmower buzz, BigDog has animal-inspired articulated legs that absorb shock and recycle kinetic energy from one step to the next.
Its robot brain, a sophisticated computer, controls locomotion sensors that adapt rapidly to the environment. The entire control system regulates, steers and navigates ground contact. A laser gyroscope keeps BigDog on his metal paws - even when the robot slips, stumbles or is kicked over.
Boston Dynamics says BigDog can run as fast as 4 miles per hour, walk slowly, lie down and climb slopes up to 35 degrees. BigDog's heightened sense can also survey the surrounding terrain and become alert to potential danger.
All told, the BigDog bears an uncanny resemblance to a living organic animal.
Routine helicopter flights operating 24 hours a day, year round, are crucial for the American mission.
The Marine Corps has recently called for unmanned cargo flights to carry essentials to isolated areas that can be reached only by air.
Enter the K-MAX, a remote-controlled helicopter designed to transport heavy loads - even in Afghanistan's high altitudes.
The K-MAX's unique rotor design - two intermeshed rotors turning in opposite directions and slightly angled to prevent the blades from colliding - give this unmanned aircraft a distinct advantage.
"All the energy goes into the lift and eliminates the need for the tail rotor," said Frans Jurgens, spokesman for Kaman Aerospace Corp, which manufactures the K-MAX.
The design enables the relatively small chopper to tow up to 6,000 pounds.
"The K-MAX is basically an aerial truck," Jurgens said.

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