On the first day of Elrob 2016 three teams sent their unmanned vehicles across country where one vehicle had to follow the leading vehicle autonomously. Two teams from Germany performed quite well, with small vehicles as well as with big trucks, while the Austrian team had some difficulties. That showed that the necessary reliability for a fieldable product might still be a few years away, but the technology is clearly on its way.
A more detailed report can be found here (in German).
Especially interesting on the second day was the reconnaissance of a building where a radioactive source had to be localized. Some teams tried to build up communication networks by distributing mesh nodes in the building. The dutch team TNO showed an interesting tele-presence approach by using a head-mounted display for controling the robot. Other teams let their robots drive autonomously. All in all, this scenario showed that the inspection of an unknown environment with robots is still an extremely difficult and time-consuming task, even with experienced operators.
Today the ninth Elrob (European Land Robot Trial) starts at the training facility Tritolwerk of the Austrian Armed Forces at Eggendorf, Austria. Robots will have to fulfill different tasks like driving in a convoy as autonomously as possible, shuttle between two locations, doing reconnaissance, and search and rescue. It is a great opportunity to get an impression of the state of the art in military robotics and the main technical challenges. You will find reports of the event on heise online (in German language), English summaries will be given here.
The Johns Hopkins University recently published a press release on a project of five students who developed a prosthetic foot that allows walking in high heels up to 10 centimeters high.
What appears as an appealing approach, emphasizing how robotics technology can help to lead a sexy, pleasurable life has one drawback, though. When calculating the market potential for the prosthetic limb, the press release states: „Some 2,100 American women have lost a leg or foot in military service, and more women entering combat assignments, so the demand for a prosthesis that accommodates women’s fashion footwear is sure to grow.“
Building a business on the expectations of increasing military conflicts means fueling these conflicts. The prosthetic foot — which is a wonderful project on its own — does not need this kind of reasoning. It should not be guided by an inacceptable growth of demand, based on violence and aggression. With prosthetic limbs in general it must be the desire to serve a shrinking market instead. Our society should be prepared to help people with disabilites with the best of our technologies, even if there are only a few of them.