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Deadly, soulless police robots coming soon to a street near you

Police robots

(NaturalNews) The late 1980s sci-fi flick RoboCop featured a half-man, half-robotic creature that was deployed to the mean, decaying streets of Detroit in a bid to replace human police officers (and save money).

In an early scene, a full robot was being demonstrated by its corporate developers, but wound up short-circuiting and blowing away one of the executives when it malfunctioned. The fix? Just tweak some software programming and that would do it.

The thought of robotic police officers patrolling the streets of America did not vanish with the fading popularity of the RoboCop movie series, however. In fact, that concept is alive and well today, and its development is moving forward.

Meet "TeleBot," created by researchers from Florida International University (FIU) "to help disabled officers and veterans return to the field," the Miami New Times (MNT) reported.

Built by FIU's Discovery Lab, the university claims that TeleBot will be the first "functional, mobile... and interactive" robot that could be patrolling the streets of Miami in less than two years.

"Incredibly fast and very low-budget"

But rather than resemble RoboCop, its developers say TeleBot is more like the characters in the movie Avatar.

"In Avatar, the disabled veteran got injured in the back, so he can't walk, and he rebounds by connecting to a system," Janghoon Kim, director of Discovery Lab and chief designer of TeleBot, told MNT. "We want to build that kind of system."

Kim's team has been successful in a number of realms. First, the prototype TeleBot was up and walking within 18 months, a huge feat in and of itself. But the team also developed the cop aide with a budget of just $20,000.

As MNT further reported, the project was truly a team effort:

Besides Kim, the project has been undertaken by Dr. Nagarajan Prabakar and Dr. S.S. Iyengar, as well as 11 volunteer undergrad students and one intern from MAST Academy High School. External support has come from U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeremy Robins and 3D designer and lab manager Mangai Prabakar.

"It is incredibly fast and also very, very low-budget," said Kim.

TeleBot is about six feet tall, weighs 80 pounds and is equipped with cameras that collect and transmit data, so it can provide its "TeleOperator" a 360-degree view.

And the goal is admirable -- providing a tool for helping disabled police officers and veterans who want to be police officers.

Robots are also being developed by the military to perform all sorts of functions, from sniffing out and disabling roadside bombs to replacing troops on the battlefield.

The Pentagon's ultra-secret Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has thus far spent decades researching and developing battlefield-type drones and robots, but with limited success. As noted by RoboHub, DARPA has funded several projects along these lines, "but they lack the portable power source and intelligence that would allow them to act beyond very limited non-combat roles."

They will assume moral agency at some point

One approach has been the "cyborgazation" of soldiers -- that is, combine humans with robotic features that allow them to become super-strong and much more durable. And, some experts believe, similar technology could eventually be utilized by police (if budgets permit).

"This concept offers the best of both worlds: the quick reaction times, precision, and strength of robotic systems and the control and superior cognitive abilities of humans," reported RoboHub.

In particular, the Army has been working on a concept known as "Land Warrior," an integrated battlefield system that links individual soldiers to a network "designed to cut through the fog of war," Popular Mechanics reported.

The system includes eyepieces containing digital maps, advanced encrypted radio communications with a 1-kilometer range and a specially designed infantry rifle. But, as PopMech reported, it's much ado about nothing; the soldiers who have tested the system don't care much for it.

"It's just a bunch of stuff we don't use, taking the place of useful stuff like guns," Sgt. James Young, who was leading a team of four M-240 machine-gunners during a recent field-testing exercise at Fort Lewis, Wash. "It makes you a slower, heavier target."

But it's not the gear itself that is problematic. There is an ethical consideration that needs to be addressed as well, and soon.

As noted by The Economist, robots are already so much a part of everyday life, it only follows that someday they "are bound to end up making life-or-death decisions in unpredictable situations, thus assuming--or at least appearing to assume--moral agency."







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