At a NASCAR racetrack in Miami earlier this month, teams from NASA, Google, and 14 other groups of engineering gurus put cutting-edge robots through some challenging paces.
The aim was to see how well the robots could tackle tasks that may sound simple, but are tricky for nonhumans – including, say, climbing a ladder, unscrewing a hose from a spigot, navigating over rubble, and steering a car.
The contest was dreamed up by the Pentagon’s futuristic experimentation arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and senior defense officials were watching it carefully – well aware that the Pentagon is growing increasingly reliant on robotics.
The Defense Department will become even more reliant on such devices in the decades to come. That’s the conclusion of a new blueprint quietly released by the Pentagon this week, which offers some telling clues about the future of unmanned systems – in other words, drones and robots.
The study, the Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap, is meant to provide the Pentagon with a “technological vision” for the next 25 years – a vision that will be “critical to future success” of the US military, according to its authors.
“Over the past decade, the qualities and types of unmanned systems acquired by the military departments have grown, and their capabilities have become integral to warfighter operations,” the study notes. “The size, sophistication, and cost of the unmanned systems portfolio have grown to rival traditional manned systems....”