"Special Delivery," For Sure

Now I know why the Pentagon's chiefs are spending billions to develop heavily-armed, flying robots. It's so they can get their Amazon deliveries quicker.x45a_overhead.jpgWell, maybe it won't be the main mission. But Mike Francis, Darpa's program director for Joint-Unmanned Combat Air Systems, says there might be a couple of commercial applications in the killer drones' underlying algorithms. At the agency's DarpaTech 2005 conference, Francis noted that J-UCAS technology -- including multiple unmanned aircraft (unarmed, of course) and the planes' associated software and ground systems -- could be commercialized for a variety of uses. Inspecting power lines are one possibility. Handling security is another. A third is delivering or tracking UPS or FedEx packages.Darpa announced that Boeing's X-45A prototype killer drones successfully completed a suppression of enemy air defenses demonstration last week, including detecting multiple simulated threats and performing coordinated attacks on multiple targets. The aircraft also prioritized targets, re-planned attacks as priorities changed and avoided simulated "pop-up" threats. It's no so hard to imagine the drones using the same decision-making processes to cope with slightly less-lethal choices.-- Catherine Macrae Hockmuth

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