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March 6th, 2002 · No Comments · Uncategorized

It looks like these days, they must be just handing out grant money out to anyone who asks. At the MIT Computing Culture Department, they’ve been putting their massive brains together to tackle this:

Problem:

Since the early 1990’s, the US has disallowed field journalists in war zones. This means that taxpaying US citizens have little idea what is happening to their soldiers, and with their tax dollars.

Solution:

A tele-operated, robotic war reporting system, able to provide images, sound, and interviews in real time.

This is from the Afghan Explorer web site. Apparently, these guys have actually built a robot journalist. Now I’m all for robotics and telepresence, and this is some neat stuff. But these guys are steeped a bit too deep in computing culture and not enough in human culture if they think their “solution” is really for the “problem” they are talking about.

From a Wired article about the Afghan Explorer:

Its unique combination of hardware and software allow it to gather video, image, sound, conduct two-way interviews, and interact with local populations, even in areas deemed off-limits by the local and US military authorities.

I don’t know what the boys in the lab are smoking, but if you operate the robot from within the U.S., you are covered by U.S. law and regulations. If the military says an area is off limits to reporters, they don’t care if the reporters are physically present or using a remote control robot. Off-limits is off-limits. Even if people in suits and sunglasses don’t come into the lab and unplug the whole works, I don’t think for one minute the armed forces would have any qualms about dropping some “smart” bombs on a “robot” journalist which was somewhere it shouldn’t be.

Though I don’t think the government has much to worry about if they deploy robo-Koppel in Afghanistan. The geniuses at MIT apparently are unaware of the economic conditions of Afghanistan:

However, the main disadvantage of the robot was pointed out by Csikszentmihalyi himself.

“If these people see a strange technology coming toward them, their first inclination is probably to shoot. It’s a bullet magnet and it’s not very resistant to bullets,” he said.

Bullets? That’s not going to be the biggest problem. You’re talking about a place that has people setting up dummy targets to get bombed so they can sell the scrap metal from the shells. Now you want to drive a remote controlled car, decked out with a video camera, satellite uplink, GPS, flat panel display, and a bunch of solar cells and batteries, through the same place? May I suggest a test run through the downtown Detroit at night? I think you’ll find the result to be identical: one missing robot.

Give me that grant money. I’ll pocket half of it, and take the other half, less $40 and put it into a trash bag. Then I’ll go to Radio Shack, and buy a remote controlled toy car with the $40. I’ll then use the toy car to drag the bag of money into the Afghan desert. It’ll be a whole lot faster, and it’s pretty much the same thing.

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