DRONE DOGGIE BUILT FOR WAR

BigDog_pr_small.jpgA robot dog could one day become a soldier's best friend -- if an Army program works out as planned.Today's soldiers carry as much as 100 pounds of equipment. That's exhausting, even for the toughest grunt. In the future, the Army wants to dump up to half that gear onto the back of a drone. But military scientists are worried that robots with wheels won't be able to follow their human masters across mountain passes, up stairs and through forest trails.To make their way across that kind of terrain, the drones will need legs -- maybe even four of them. So the Army's Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, or TACOM, has just doled out $2.25 million to two robotics firms to prototype a big, mechanical dog capable of carrying ammunition, food and supplies into battle.The contracts are part of a broader Pentagon look into robots that take their cues from nature. Defense Department-backed scientists are studying swarms of bees and packs of wolves for ideas on how to get drones to work together. Man-made snakes, lobsters, flies -- even elephant trunks -- are just a few of the animal-inspired devices being created by military-funded researchers."We're coming full circle," said Paul Meunch, a TACOM research scientist. "In the days of George Washington, the Army used mules and horses. Then it moved on to trucks. And then armored vehicles and tanks. Now we could be swinging back to four legs."My Wired News article has more.THERE'S MORE: Hear me bark about robo-fidos on today's edition of public radio's "Future Tense" here.

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