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Libyan rebels turn toys into robo weapons

Call it a weapon of clever construction. Libyan rebels are scrapping together improvised fighting machines with materials that include a Power Wheels jeep.

weapon made from toy car
Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

It's a killer toy, but nothing you'd give little Billy for Christmas. Libyan rebels are taking do-it-yourself weapons to a new level with an armed unmanned vehicle based on a Power Wheels Jeep.

Call it a weapon of clever construction.

An engineer in the rebels' ranks equipped the toy ride with a video camera and remote control unit and slapped a machine gun on top. An Al Jazeera story about Libyan rebels scrapping together improvised weapons out of everything from rocket shells to car and bike parts turned up this example of ultralow-budget military R&D. The robo gun shows up 55 seconds into the video below.

IEEE Spectrum's Evan Ackerman points out the serious side of the story:

[The robo rebel] is a vivid illustration of the potential implications of a rapidly descending barrier to entry for this kind of technology. Anyone can (on principle, at least) build a robot, and given the need or the motivation, anyone can put a gun on one, too.

Judging from the video, it looks like the rebels still have kinks to work out. Having a guy standing by to feed the ammo belt defeats the purpose of remote weapons. And you can't call Fisher-Price totmobiles rugged or agile.

Defense contractors who are developing million-dollar-budget armed unmanned vehicles likely aren't looking over their shoulders, and iRobot's shareholders probably aren't too worried either.

Still, the Libyan rebels are showing what you can do with parts you buy on a trip to the mall (not counting the machine gun). And hey, if you're a ragtag band of rebels fighting a dictator's army in the desert of North Africa, you've got to be resourceful.

Makes me a little nervous, though. I wonder if someone will try to weaponize those new Hot Wheels, especially if Mattel combines the radio control and video models.