April 21, 2011.
That date came and went without incident.
But it looks like progress on making real-life Terminator robots – and perhaps our robot apocalypse – is running just a few years behind.
At the Robotics Summit Virtual Conference & Expo on Wednesday, Tim Trainer, vice president of operations for iRobot’s government and industrial division, spoke about advancements in military robotics.
Right now, iRobot makes mobile robots for reconnaissance and bomb disposal. These robots are used by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq to keep soldiers safe. But these robots can’t think on their own.
The current operations model requires one operator to one robot, Trainer said.
“The future of robotic systems and innovations rests with autonomy,” he said. “Our goal is to drive it to robotic squad members.”
Companies like iRobot are working to give military robots the capability to execute a desired task or mission without continuous operator guidance, Trainer said.
“Ultimately where are we going? Robotic organizations, where we give a whole mission task to perhaps a robotic organization and it carries those tasks out either in conjunction with or independent of human operators,” Trainer said.
Going from today’s 100% operator control to “mission autonomy” of 1% operator control could happen in 10 years, assuming government investment, he said. Under the scenario of mission autonomy, one person could control an army of 50 or more robots.
Tomorrow’s autonomous robotic systems will be capable of performing as teammates and independently perform mission-level activities, he said. In his presentation, Trainer even showed an artist’s representation of Terminator-like robots working with military personnel. (See above photo.)
Trainer predicted that partial task autonomy for military robots (25% operator control) could occur in two years, with one person controlling one to three robots. Task autonomy (10% operator control) could occur in five years, with one person controlling five or more robots. And mission autonomy (1% operator control) could occur 10 years from now. (See iRobot chart below for detailed timeline.)