TechKnowledge: Killer Robots, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and Self-Driving Cars

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Imagine a world where armed robotic police officers patrol the streets, autonomous drones fill the sky, and most cars on the road drive themselves. It sounds sci-fi, but this future might happen sooner than you think. Almost every month, new technological and legislative developments bring these autonomous machines closer to our world.

In the United Nations, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is meeting to discuss a potential ban on killer robots. These are defined as machines that are capable of taking a human life without intervention from a human operator. Currently, robots that are capable of killing on their own are possible to construct, but not used in military practice. Even drones used by the United States military require human operation. The four day United Nations meeting is a first step toward international action against these potentially deadly robots. The council will meet again in November to further discuss the issue.

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Killer robots don’t necessarily have to be humanoids, and in the near future they are most likely to come in the form of small aircraft. Unmanned aerial vehicles (commonly known as drones) have many civilian applications that could be useful in many areas of society. Using drones, Amazon is planning to launch an aerial delivery service as early as 2015. CUPID is a drone capable of Tasing an individual perceived as threatening. The movie industry is pushing to legalize commercial drone usage to help film aerial shots in films. The technology for drone usage is nearly ready, but the main hurdle at this point is an FAA regulation banning commercial drone use.

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Tiny flying robots are useful for a variety of reasons, but they certainly won’t be much help taking you places. However, in the next ten years, self-driving cars will be able to do just that. Google’s driverless car has made headlines several times since 2010, as their program continues to develop and their vehicles log upwards of 700,000 miles. The autonomous cars at google are equipped with about $150,000 worth of equipment, including cameras, radar, and a top-mounted LIDAR (laser-radar) array. Google is working to reduce these costs when negotiating with auto manufacturers in the future. Recently, Google has revealed that they are building 100 completely autonomous cars with no steering wheel or brakes and will begin testing them soon.

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Even if the consumer price of an autonomous vehicle is pricey when they are first made available to the public, self-driving taxis may soon be a convenient way to avoid having to buy a car entirely. However, Google is not the only company working on self-driving cars. Volvo is preparing to launch 100 autonomous vehicles by 2017. Tesla claims to be the first manufacturer producing self-driving cars.

The topic of autonomous vehicles raises many questions. For instance – what if your autonomous car encounters a situation where killing you would save more than one person’s life? What would it be programmed to do? The future of many technologies will call such ethical decisions into play. With all the recent buzz about walking, flying, and driving robots, it’s becoming apparent that the technology of I, Robot is becoming a reality. As companies develop new technology and legislatures pass laws, the path of the future is being paved into the present.

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