NEW YORK (Fortune Magazine) -- It's 1900 hours on Veterans Day in Fayetteville, N.C., a pistol shot from the Fort Bragg military base. Ten minutes ago a 25-year-old self-taught engineer named Adam Gettings pulled into the Waffle House parking lot, lifted the hatch of his black SUV, and unveiled what could very well be the future of urban warfare: a toy-like but gun-wielding robot designed to replace human soldiers on the battlefield.
It's two feet tall, travels ten miles an hour, and spins on a dime. Remote-controlled over an encrypted frequency that jams nearby radios and cellphones, it'll blow a ten-inch hole through a steel door with deadly accuracy from 400 meters.
Now Gettings is sitting calmly on the other side of a plate of fried eggs and sliced tomatoes, talking about how his company, Robotex, has teamed up with a wild-eyed Tennessee shotgun designer to rethink the development strategy for military technology. "
The idea that you can use investor money rather than [government] research money - that's a new thing," says Gettings, who's in town for SpecOps, a war-fighter technology conference.
Military contractors typically get the funding to build, test, and sell new weapons systems from federal agencies. It can take forever.
Robotex, based in Palo Alto, is financed by angel investors and went from idea to product in six months. "This is the new defense, Silicon Valley-style," says Gettings. "You build only what's necessary, iterate quickly, and keep the price low."
How low? Try $30,000 to $50,000. A similar bot, the Talon, which was developed by defense contractor Foster-Miller and is being tested in Iraq, costs six times that amount. "Our system does all the same things as the Talon, weighs half as much, and costs a fraction," says Gettings.
An endorsement from Blackwater
Robotex is the brainchild of Terry Izumi, a reclusive filmmaker who comes from a long line of samurai warriors, has trained Secret Service agents, and worked both at DreamWorks (Charts) and in Disney's (Charts, Fortune 500) Imagineering division.
When Izumi decided to build a better war robot in 2005, he recruited Nathan Gettings, a former PayPal software engineer and founder of Palantir Technologies, who brought in his brother Adam as well as a fourth (silent) partner who hails from both PayPal and YouTube. They had a prototype in no time. But they needed a weapon, and that's how Jerry Baber, his revolutionary shotgun, and a pilotless mini-helicopter come into the picture.
Baber is the fast-talking, white-haired founder of Military Police Systems, an arms manufacturer and ammunition distributor based in the hills of eastern Tennessee. When his chums at Blackwater, the security contractor, told him that the Robotex guys were the real deal, he invited them for a visit.
"I called Nathan and Adam on a Monday, and on Thursday they were here," says Baber.
With that meeting, he turned a promising little robot into something both multifunctional and truly scary. His company's $8,000 Atchisson Assault-12 shotgun was fresh off the assembly line after a dozen years in development. It's made of aircraft-grade stainless steel, never needs lubrication or cleaning, and won't rust. Pour sand through it and it won't clog. It doesn't recoil, so it's accurate even when it's firing in automatic mode, which it does at a rate of 300 rounds per minute.
"It delivers the lead equivalent of 132 M16s," says Baber. "When they start firing from every direction, it's all over."
Is the military really ready to deploy robot soldiers? (cont...)
It is the first time the test, developed in Sweden, has been carried out in Western Australia.
Seventy hospital and emergency services personnel are involved.
"Exercise Pegasus" is testing the system's ability to cope without affecting regular health services.
The Director General of Health, Neale Fong, says the exercise will re-enact a large scale emergency situation such as the Madrid train bombing in 2004 (cont...)
Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said battleships, helicopters and aircraft would take part in a range of manoeuvres, due to end in February.
This is the latest sign of a resurgence in Russia's military capabilities, the BBC's Nick Childs says.
Russia recently resumed long-range patrols by its bomber aircraft. (cont...)
Artificial intelligence. We've been reading and watching science fiction with walking, talking robots for nearly a century. Researchers have been tinkering with it for decades. Have we come any closer to android production factories? Not quite. But the CALO project, under the direction of SRI International, is looking at making headway in basic intelligence for widely used computer software.CALO, or Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes, is a very ambitious collaboration between more than twenty different organizations. "The goal of the project is to create cognitive software systems, that is, systems that can reason, learn from experience, be told what to do, explain what they are doing, reflect on their experience, and respond robustly to surprise," states SRI's CALO information page.CALO brings together many experts from different fields of artificial intelligence, like machine learning, natural language processing, and Semantic Web technologies. Groups work on a different piece of CALO, which will be part of the whole functionality. The project is being funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under its Perceptive Assistant that Learns (PAL) program. The PAL program is expected to spawn innovative ideas that bring new science, fundamental approaches to current problems, and algorithms and tools and yield technology of significant value to the military. SRI was awarded the first two phases of a five-year contract to develop a personalized cognitive assistant. (cont...)