If I’ve learned one thing from science fiction, it’s that some kind of apocalypse is going to destroy us all; we just don’t know which one. Zombies, dinosaurs, asteroids, global warming…any one of these could end mankind in one fell swoop. The Navy, however, has put its chips on robots. In the first step toward the day when an armed race of robots turns on its human masters, the U.S. Navy is proposing to develop swarms of small semi-autonomous robots that can dynamically form up and work together to build complex objects out in the field. Yes, that’s right; it wants to develop robots that can construct more robots. What’s next? A central brain that controls them all?
Here’s the proposal: “Each micro-robot would perform a specific task, often a single rudimentary task, repeatedly. Collectively, these tasks would be choreographed in purposeful activities for manufacturing. A micro-robot swarm should be able to perform material synthesis and component assembly, concurrently. The micro-robots could be designed to perform basic operations such as pick and place, dispense liquids, print inks, remove material, join components, etc. These micro-robots should be able to move cooperatively within a workspace to achieve highly efficient synthesis and assembly.”
As Wired’s Danger Room points out, these robots would only be able to “print” 3D objects using relatively small equipment and be programmed on a standard laptop. Each bot would likely fabricate a few different parts and then they would all work together to construct the full machine, each playing a specific role. For example, robots like these could be used to repair damaged vessels. It may sound innocent but Wired’s Danger Room points out that it may just be the “Easy-Bake Oven of the robot apocalypse.”
Scarier, the proposal mentions “metamorphic materials,” and hints at robots that can shape shift, which means they are basically rudimentary Transformers. Are we ready for a real Autobot and Decepticon battle on American soil? Especially one that isn’t filmed by arthritic director Michael Bay?
The best we can hope for is a truce with this blooming race of super-robot Constructicons. After that, we should have a good 40 years of peace before they come to destroy the 12 colonies of man, probably with that Death Ray the Navy keeps working on.