Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have officially entered the Battletech age. I give you the Rescue Dragon:

This is the T-52 Enryu rescue robot prototype. It is made by Tmsuk Co., Ltd. of Japan with the idea of being a trailblazer in situations where there is a lot of heavy debris between life and death for people trapped in a disaster or accident. It can lift and move trees, rubble, steel, etc. with a speed and precision that bulldozers cannot manage.

It is powered by a 3-stroke direct injection diesel engine, with a maximum speed of about 1.8 mph. Each arm is capable of lifting up to 1,100 lbs. It has a maximum handspan of 33 ft. when the arms are fully stretched out. It carries 7 on board cameras.

The Enryu is not an autonomous machine — it is controlled remotely by a human operator, in much the way other kinds of heavy equipment are controlled. Tmsuk hopes to have a commercial production of this robot by the end of 2004.

You can see some movies of the robot in action here. One clip is a fairly impressive display of deft skill on the part of the remote operator, who successfully places a large chunk of steel on the ground balanced on its end.

One person remarked this robot looks a lot like something out of Patlabor. Me, the first thing I thought was, “OMG it’s the ED-209!”

People have a certain paranoia that the technologies of the future are going to focus on the military, weaponized applications of things like robotics. But I’ve always believed that such technologies are driven initially by manufacturing and emergency services.

In the case of robots, this has proven correct. Robots have been in use in manufacturing for many years now, doing highly dangerous and repetitive tasks. Robots have many applications in clean rooms, hazardous environments, and going places that humans can’t.

Robot welding in an automobile factory.

The Pyramid Rover, a robot designed by National Geographic, has been used to crawl up into small shafts inside the Great Pyramid in Egypt to see where those shafts go and what, if anything, was on the other end.

Robots enable the police and military to explore potentially dangerous situations in combat zones, terrorism incidents, and situations where approaching a person may be deadly (homicide bombers).

The ultimate exploratory robot: the Mars Spirit Rover, whose mobile work on Mars has already yielded a number of exciting scientific discoveries about the Red Planet.

4 Responses to “The Rescue Dragon”
  1. Sigivald says:

    Three-stroke engine?

    And here I thought they only came in 2 and 4…

  2. TTK Ciar says:

    The humanoid-form robots will only find peacetime applications; it is an inappropriate shape for efficient armoring. Limbs are too delicate to survive the battlefield.

    DARPA is actively pursuing autonomous vehicle technology for military application, qv:

    One of the primary advantages to such automation in a ground vehicle is the elimination of internal volume for the human crew, resulting in a more compact shape for a more efficient armor envelope.

    When the Russians adopted the autoloader for their T-64 and T-72 families of tanks, their turrets needed to house one less crewman and became correspondingly more compact. Even though the autoloader device was heavier than the crewman it replaced, the armor mass savings more than made up for it.

    The next reduction of crew must be from three to zero; humans absolutely need three brains and sets of eyes to effectively fight in the vehicle. Experiments with eliminating the commander, or combining the responsibilities of the gunner and driver, have failed. A computer could conceivably replace one of these crew functions, but it cannot integrate itself effectively with the human command and control interface. But computers can integrate very effectively with themselves, and convey more information over gigabit ethernet than humans can with voice and gesture.

    Not that humans can be fully replaced; autonomous vehicles would only be useful in the context of a combined arms force, which would include infantry and human-crewed vehicles. The point of combined arms is that the strengths of one component make up for the weaknesses of others; the obvious drawbacks of fully automated vehicles could be ameliorated by the presence of the human forces, while their particular strengths could be applied to the enemy.

    I understand what you mean about feeling as though you live in some futuristic era; technology is making things possible today which lived only in sci-fi ten years ago.

    — TTK

  3. Anne Haight says:

    I agree that humanoid forms are impractical for weaponized applications. They have a sinister appearance (like the ED-209 in Robocop and the mechs that feature prominently in a lot of anime), hence their use in movies and comics. But from a purely functional perspective, such a design is unnecessarily vulnerable and conveys no particular advantage.

    The DARPA Grand Challenge (with a $1 million purse for the winner) is an intriguing contest, although the technology that various participants present is clearly not ready for prime time. The obstacle course is 142 miles (located in the Mohave Desert) and contains various challenges such as barbed wire, hills, gulches, and other terrain. The vehicle must be totally autonomous, and is expected to complete the course and arrive at the correct destination in the lowest time.

    This year, at least, none of the vehicles entered completed the course at all, much less correctly. Out of 15 teams, only 7 vehicles made it more than 1 mile. The farthest one, Red Team, made it about 7 miles before getting stuck on a rock.

    It’s a difficult problem to solve, and highlights just how versatile infantry can be, and how complex human decision-making is. In spite of sophisticated GPS navigation, visual recognition technology and other environment detection equipment, barbed wire still trips them up (Team CIMAR’s vehicle).

    This is not to say that such contests are pointless. On the contrary, DARPA’s contest gives a powerful impetus for innovation and creativity by all comers, including small companies and engineering students. Red Team, for example, is comprised of the Robotics Lab at Carnegie Mellon University. They have historically been very successful in DARPA’s contests. Their entry was the Sandstorm, a modified Hummer.

    Maneuverability seems to be an important consideration in military vehicles of the modern age. You can armor the crap out of a tank, or you can make the tank nimble. The latter is more desirable for many reasons, not the least of which is that rather than having to absorb damage, the vehicle can’t be damaged at all if it’s never hit.

    So while it is true that removing humans from the vehicle altogether allows a more compact design and a better armoring capacity, I think the most important consequence of this is the simple fact that if humans aren’t present, they can’t be killed. Reducing human casualties in warfare is one of the main reasons for technological development.

    It could be argued that it’s only important to reduce your own casualties, and not your enemy’s. Depending on the nature of one’s enemies, this may be a valid consideration. Islamist terrorists, for example, cannot be persuaded to stop what they are doing, and dying for their cause is a desirable goal for them. Killing them outright is the only apparent way to stop them.

    Other enemies, however, may be open to more reasonable strategies. I can forsee a future in which warfare is decided between remote and autonomous machines, over traditional things like land and resources, but on other planets.

  4. Who Tends the Fires says:

    All the “News” that’s fit to rent…

    This is gonna be a long one: it covers a wealth of ground. Don’t bother if you’re looking for good news and happy thoughts. There ain’t no 47 year old virgins sipping avacado latte in their beige pajamas thinking Happy-Happy…

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