The 21st century includes all kinds of scary things. But here’s one “yikes” moment that I never considered until recently: robot dogs.
Search for “robot dog” on Youtube and you’ll come across a video for Boston Dynamics’ “BigDog” that walks on four legs through ice and snow.
It makes this eerie sound like a swarm of angry bees. The dog doesn’t look like a Great Dane or a German Shepard. No, it looks like a backpack or suitcase with black legs. The 235 lb. robot dog treks through the woods alone, moving spiderlike across the landscape. A man kicks its side and the “dog” crosses its legs over — first front legs, then back — and gathers its balance in very lifelike fashion. It walks across snowy hills. It slips on ice and props its weight on one knee, then another, then stands back up.
Naturally, you have to consider the military use of such a device. Put a camera, armor and guns on this thing and it is truly a horrifying robot soldier. We have drones. Are robot dog fighters next?
No doubt, we’re in a world of wild technology that changes faster than we can conceive. The video I’m describing is actually from 2008. There’s no telling what advancements have been made to “BigDog” since then.
Yes, I’m a sucker for technology headlines. While I’m creeped out by quite a bit, I’m often really fascinated too. One article that really grabbed my attention recently was from “MyScienceAcademy,” entitled “27 science fictions that became facts in 2012.” If you want to read it, you can Google it.
Here are some of the 27 headlines: “Quadriplegic uses her mind to control her robotic arm,” “Invisibility cloak technology takes a huge leap forward,” “spray-on skin” developed, “Custom jaw-transplant created with 3-D printer,” “Self-driving cars are legal in Nevada, Florida and California,” “Artificial leaves generate electricity,” “Eye implants give sight to the blind” and “Human brain is hacked.”
Of course, headlines about medical breakthroughs tend to give suffering people false hope that a cure for their condition is imminent. There’s generally a significant lag time between a breakthrough and the mass application of that new technology.
But it’s hard not to be amazed, hopeful and also horrified at our rapid advancements. Imagine a blind child getting eye implants and seeing. How wonderful that day would be. Imagine burn victims being treated with “spray-on skin.”
The paragraph about the skin technology reads: “ReCell by Avita Medical is a medical breakthrough for severe-burn victims. The technology uses a postage stamp–size piece of skin from the patient, leaving the donor site with what looks like a rug burn. Then the sample is mixed with an enzyme harvested from pigs and sprayed back onto the burn site. Each tiny graft expands, covering a space up to the size of a book page within a week. Since the donor skin comes from the patient, the risk of rejection is minimal.”
That is amazing and a potentially life-altering advancement for people who suffer severe burns in coming years.
Three-D printing is also a mind-blowing development.
Here’s the paragraph about a custom jaw being developed through such printing. “A custom working jawbone was created for an 83-year-old patient using titanium powder and bioceramic coating. The first of its kind, the successful surgery opens the door for individualized bone replacement and, perhaps one day, the ability to print out new muscles and organs.”
Another technology that amazes me is the work on “invisibility cloaks.” There’s a picture with the online science article showing a person hiding in the middle of a field of grass under such a cloak, which has shifted colors in chameleon fashion to match the grass.
Here’s the paragraph about that technology: “British Columbia company HyperStealth Biotechnology showed a functioning prototype of its new fabric to the U.S. and Canadian military this year. The material, called Quantum Stealth, bends light waves around the wearer without the use of batteries, mirrors or cameras. It blocks the subject from being seen by visual means but also keeps them hidden from thermal scans and infrared.”
Other research includes the development of artificial leaves that generate electricity. Here’s the paragraph on that: “Using relatively inexpensive materials, Daniel G. Nocera created the world’s first practical artificial leaf. The self-contained units mimic the process of photosynthesis, but the end result is hydrogen instead of oxygen. The hydrogen can then be captured into fuel cells and used for electricity, even in the most remote locations on Earth.”
Wow! Any kid in science class who isn’t fascinated with the world of science isn’t truly looking at the world of science.
There is such ingenuity all around us.
Then again, that scares the fool out of us too. Because not all technology is used for good.
For instance, I sure don’t want those robot dogs that buzz like bees chasing me anywhere.
I’d much prefer the warm-blooded variety nipping at my heels.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.
Robot Dogs. Woody Allen's movie Sleeper contains a robot dog. Woodys character is put to sleep and wakes up 200 years in the future. When Woody sees the robot dog he says "Is it housebroken or is it going to leave little batteries all over the kitchen floor?"
02/10/13 at 02:04 PM
A bit of real humor right here on the MadisonJournalTODAY site. How rare and how fun. Thank you for perking up my day!
The machines have risen you will start to see drones used in all kinds of law enforcement duties. Also you will start to see the one hour propaganda cop show's like flash point and NCIS will start showing how the drones saved the day. This is a dark dangerous path we are headed down. Checkout Intellistreets, Boston dynamics petman.