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Darpa's Smart, Mean, Off-Road Drone

crusher1.JPGBy the time you read this, Carnegie Mellon roboticists and Darpa chieftains will be rolling out their latest mechanical warrior: a six-and-half-ton, six-wheeled unmanned behemoth called Crusher.Back in October, I took a look at the bot as it was being built, in a restored brick-and-chestnut mill on the banks of Pittsburgh's Allegheny River. Even as an aluminum-titanium skeleton, the machine left an impression -- something that looked ready to chew up all kinds of terrain. The clever, almost leg-like way the wheels attached would allow Crusher (like its predecessor, Carnegie's Spinner robot) to climb steps bigger than four feet, and tackle slopes with a 40 degree grade. In-hub electric motors, powered by a VW Jetta's turbo diesel engine, wouldn't hurt, either.Carnegie and Darpa will be talking up Crusher's off-road toughness today. And they'll crow about the robot's brains and eyes -- the machine is part of a $35 million, Darpa-backed effort to make robots more autonomous. crusher_shop_3a.JPGA few weeks before I visited Pittsburgh, Spinner used eight laser range-finders and four pairs of stereo cameras to help travel 26 miles of tough terrain, completely on its own. Crusher's 18-foot, telescoping mast, packed with sensors, should only make this both more perceptive.But what today's presenters probably won't talk about much is that Crusher is designed to be mean, too. It's an "unmanned ground combat vehicle," a prototype for the military's next generation of armed robots. Crusher has been equipped with a Rafael Mini-Typhoon gun mount, which holds a "simulated" .50 caliber rifle."Were developing Crusher," Carnegie's John Bares said in a statement, "to show people what can be done and pave the way for the future."And in that future, the robots can go anywhere, think for themselves, and carry guns.UPDATE 6:04 PM: Alan Boyle reports on Crusher's "Hollywood-style rollout."

Two Crusher prototypes made their entrance amid music, video and flashing lights and one of them proceeded over to the center's obstacle course, rolling over wrecked cars and other obstacles... Crusher also demonstrated a tight U-turn maneuver inside a garage.
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