DARPA plans 'Avatar' surrogate robots

The agency apparently wants to create remotely operated bipedal machines that could perform some soldiering duties. Flying dragons not included.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
20th Century Fox

Could soldiers of the future fight battles in robot bodies controlled from afar? DARPA apparently thinks so, and the agency wants to create an army of surrogate fighting droids.

The U.S. military's research wing apparently is planning surrogates like in the film "Avatar" but with robots instead of giant Na'vi. It has a $7 million program code-named "Avatar" in its 2013 budget, according to Wired.

The robots would reduce risk to human fighters, just as thousands of aerial drones are already keeping pilots out of harm's way.

"The Avatar program will develop interfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bi-pedal machine and allow it to act as the soldier's surrogate," Wired quoted DARPA as saying.

The robots' duties will include "room clearing, sentry control [and] combat casualty recovery."

If that sounds far-fetched, consider that the technology to control a humanoid robot with a brain-machine interface, while rudimentary, has been around for years, as shown with Honda's Asimo robot.

Meanwhile, DARPA developer Boston Dynamics has also been experimenting with humanoids. Petman is a full-size anthropomorphic bot that's ostensibly designed to test chemical weapons suits. It isn't weaponized, but boy can it put on a mean display of push-ups.

No doubt several hundred Petman avatars mounted on Boston Dynamics' nightmarish AlphaDog robo-mules would inspire enough terror in any foe to win an engagement without a shot fired.

Just send in the robo-cavalry and it's a done deal.

(Via Wired)