The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) has yielded a new autonomous robot named Pet-Proto, and it is capable of walking, dodging, and jumping through hostile environments.
Why make such a metal giant, you ask? The primary function of the DRC is to “develop ground robots capable of executing complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments.”
It’s a nightmare we have repeatedly: walking through the crowded mayhem, known as Times Square, you look up to see a stooping suited figure with shoulders unnaturally wide. The bot holds and scans a book in one heavily wired arm and a classy gin and tonic in the other while waiting for the light to change and the street crossing to commence.
But something goes wrong. A hurricane wind knocks down a nearby power line and a few passersby are trapped on the sidewalk as a hissing wire snaps and threatens to electrocute them. The city goers cannot move, and they do not have much time to escape the skipping power line. Lives are at stake, as Pet-Proto stalks forward, avoids crashing into people and the deadly wire by leaping past. The massive metal arms find a grounded portion of the power line and subdue the threat, while the terrified tourists click myriad cameras and thank the bot for their safety.
Until, of course, Pet-Proto has a malfunctioning moral chip that is warped by overheating from the sun, and in the middle of the people saving decision, the robot goes full circle and wants to end the threat of . . . humanity.
DARPA hopes to have many bots capable of not just carrying but using tools in the near future. Are we safe?