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New robot’s a real stunner

Kai Ryssdal Jul 10, 2007
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New robot’s a real stunner

Kai Ryssdal Jul 10, 2007
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: The future of robotics is on display this week in Chicago. Taser, the stun gun company, is having its annual product demonstration there at what it calls a tactical conference.

Among the offerings is a shotgun shell that shoots wireless stun gun rounds and a robot that comes equipped with a Taser of its own. The company says it could be used in prisons or even in combat. Which is a far cry from Detroit using robots to cut down on automobile manufacturing costs.

John Pike’s the director of GlobalSecurity.org. Mr. Pike, welcome to the program.

John Pike: Good to be here.

Ryssdal: So, who’s buying these things?

Pike: Well, at this point, you’re seeing a lot of interest from the Pentagon. The service is looking at where you could put robots, just about any place you could put a human being. Right now, they’re trying to figure out how they could automate it. Because the bottom line is that the Pentagon is in competition with the private sector for personnel, for labor. The private sector is substituting capital, technology, automation for labor. And the Pentagon has to do the same thing, or their labor costs are just gonna go through the roof.

Ryssdal: Who are they selling to besides the Pentagon?

Pike: I think there also is a lot of interest in robotic guards for anybody who has a large warehouse that needs to be guarded at night. Certainly the correction system. And you might also imagine cops on the beat, neighborhood policing with robots. Although I think maybe that’s a little further down the road.

Ryssdal: It’s a business opportunity in a lot of ways. Not only can you take the human being out of the equation, so you don’t have to pay for security guards or for more soldiers, but also sort of in the ancillary benefits that come with just having robotics in the system.

Pike: Well, there are an enormous number of advantages in having robotic guards or robotic soldiers. Robots don’t get bored. Robots do exactly what they’re told. You don’t have to write condolence letters for them. They are infinitely brave. When you don’t need them, you can shrink-wrap them and put them in storage. They don’t have families that need to have housing. And if you put them on a battlefield with lethal weapons, they will kill without remorse. They will kill without pity and without compunction, which is not something that you would say about human soldiers.

Ryssdal: You know, it’s great to be able to take soldiers out of harm’s way. And it’s great to not have to put people in situations where they could get killed or possibly have to kill somebody else. But what about security companies who say, you know, we generate 1,000 jobs in this community guarding the prison, or you know, it’s a great source of employment for young people?

Pike: Well, I think that they also have to understand that it’s an extremely hazardous, extremely stressful job. It’s not one that people are always going to be attracted to, and certainly any of those guards I think would prefer to be tele-operating some . . . a devise that would not be able to feel pain rather than having to go in there and get beat up themselves. I think it would certainly be better for the guards,

better for the inmates for that much long.

Ryssdal: All right, well then what’s the next big innovation in robotics?

Pike: The big development that you’re looking at over the next five to 15 years is increasing degrees of autonomy. That you can give the robot mission orders — apprehend everybody who’s in the building — and the robot would follow through with all of the rest. That’s what the big development is going to be, that’s where you’re going to see sudden advances. That’s where the unfolding of Moore’s Law, the doubling of computing power every 18 months, that’s where you’re starting to get into the field of RoboCop or Terminator. Not in the next five years, but you look 10 years down the road and that’s what you’re starting to look at. And at that point, there are all kinds of applications that people are gonna be interested in.

Ryssdal: Mr. Pike, thanks very much for your time.

Pike: Thank you.

Ryssdal: John Pike from the Web site GlobalSecurity.org.

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