iRobot's less-cuddly, more-murderous Roomba

Last October I published a column entitled Robots cannot love. In the column I wrote about how people are forming emotional attachments to their Roomba vacuum cleaners. I tried to contact iRobot to get a comment for the story, but the company’s media relations department denied my request. One of the lines of questioning I wanted to ask – which I wound up publishing in my column in lieu of an interview – was this:

“Just so we are clear, the settings on the Roomba do NOT include Human Extinction or Global Domination. Is that correct? Could one order the Global Domination setting optional? Maybe I’m a military strongman and I’m building an army of robots. Would it be possible to launch a division of Roombas to vacuum my opponents while I hid three miles beneath the earth in my secret futuristic-looking lair?”

It turns out the answer to that question looks like yes. (And now you can see why they didn’t want to talk to me.)

 According to a recent article on the British tech Web site The Register, iRobot has sold two Warrior X700 battle bots to the development wing of the U.S. Army.

The article says:

The machine warriors can carry almost any payload up to 150lb or so, on a unique sliding fore-and-aft platform which lets them maintain their balance going over obstacles, up stairs etc. An iRobot Warrior can be fitted with various kinds of grappler arms, bomb-disposal gear, hazardous-materials kit and so on.

But iRobot also specifies that the machine is good for “building clearance”, “SWAT” or other “Weaponised Missions”. Company literature (pdf) shows the droid fitted with a “Metal Storm” quad-barrel superimposed grenade launcher, able to spurt out sixteen 40mm frag warheads in a fraction of a second.

Yes, the U.S. Army could soon deploy robots with grenade launchers. All of which reminds me of a great quote from a Simpsons episode in which Bart and Lisa graduate from a military academy. The commandant closed his commencement speech with this prediction:

“The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear:  To build and maintain those robots. Thank you.”

I have a bad feeling humans will one day refer to 2008 as The Before Time. 

Thanks to Jeff Y. for sending me the link.

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