Soldiers in Iraq and Afganistan are using robots to do some of the military’s most dangerous work. The best way to remove a land mine is to step on it, but it’s hard to get people to volunteer for that duty. That’s where robots come in. Specially designed machines go out into minefields and trigger the explosives. They lose a leg every time one goes off, but those legs can be replaced.
During a recent test of these devices in Arizona, the Army colonel in charge of the test stopped it before they were finished. The robot had only one leg left, and was still tring to trudge through the mine field and complete its mission. The colonel claimed that the test was inhumane.
The troops are increasingly befriending and bonding with their robots. Many of them have names. In some cases, soldiers bring boxes of robot pieces back to the repair facility, asking that they be fixed. They don’t want new robots. They want the old ones repaired.
In some cases, the robots have received promotions and medals for exemplary performance. Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) units, who use robots to find and remove roadside bombs in Iraq, even take their robots fishing with them. They just put a fishing rod in the claw and put the robot in the sun next to the water.
According to a recent Washington Post story, the military isn’t the only place where robots are becoming commonplace. There were two million personal bots in use in 2004. That number is expected to climb to 7 million next year. If we continue to personify them, we may be facing some pretty interesting questions about their role in society.