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A New Workhorse For DARPA 111

Posted by Hemos
from the but-can-it-transform dept.
Roland Piquepaille writes "Later this month, Carnegie Mellon University and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will unveil the successor of the Spinner, a 7-ton unmanned robotic vehicle. Dubbed Crusher, this new 6.5-ton robot will be able to carry payloads of up to 2 tons on very complex terrains. Crusher will rely on surrounding sensors to keep its balance and learn about its environment. After intensive testings, it should start to perform its duties in 2008. Read more for additional details and pictures of Spinner and Crusher in action." However, I can see they have not yet performed the test of having Sigourney Weaver fight a hitchhiking alien with it, which is obviously crucial to our national defense.
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A New Workhorse For DARPA

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  • Crusher will rely on surrounding sensors to keep its balance and learn about its environment.

    The more they stay the same!
  • by voice_of_all_reason (926702) on Monday April 17, 2006 @10:13AM (#15141901)
    Can they transform and combine to form Devastator http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructicons [wikipedia.org] yet?
  • From TFA (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 17, 2006 @10:14AM (#15141909)
    "The future of war will be unmanned."

    What I think they mean is,
    The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today, remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots. Thank you.
    • And if the controlling system HAPPENS to be "Skynet", I can forsee what the next generations of these robots will look like, too.
    • Actually the future of war will be rooms full of teenagers remotely controlling thousands of semi autonomous vehicles, ground, sea, and air, to achieve victory on the battle field. Ender's Game http://www.ender.com/ender/ [ender.com] describes such a future.

      Of course the real reason for developing such robots will initially be to reduce the number of troops needed to support the front line troops. Typically it requires a large number of support troops for each combat troop on the front line. By reducing the numb
      • The Department of Defense has announced its recruiting and retention statistics by the active and reserve components for the month of March.

        All of the active duty branches met or exceeded their recruiting goals for the month. On the reserve side, only four of the six reserve services met their monthly recruiting goal.

        Source: About.com [about.com]

        So fewer people are opting for duty in the reserves, but more people are signing up for active service.

      • This is not really about reducing the number of support troops. This machine will require more mechanics and technicians than the 2-1/2t truck it would replace. This is more about keeping the support troops in the rear areas, where they are safer.

        Fewer troops exposed to risk == fewer dead, wounded, or maimed troops.
  • Pic (Score:4, Funny)

    by Hogwash McFly (678207) on Monday April 17, 2006 @10:15AM (#15141921)
    Here's a pic of the robot in action [nyud.net]
  • Oddly ironic (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday April 17, 2006 @10:17AM (#15141932)
    Spiner and Crusher are obviously takeoffs on the actors and characters of Star Trek the Next Generation. Brent Spiner playing Lt. Cmdr Data and Gates McFadden playing the ever-luscious Dr. Beverly Crusher.

    How ironic, then, that these unmanned war machines fly in the face of the famous Star Trek TOS episode A Taste of Armageddon [trekguide.com] where the inhabitants of a planet who have been at war with each other for 500 years have simply learned to accept casualty-less war as normal life. The people who have been selected to die go to their death chambers and are peacefully snuffed out. No one has the will to stop fighting because no one really gets hurt.

    How much lower will our resolve to make peace be when the cost to ourselves in a war is insignificant? When we count our casualties by the amount of toys broken than the number of lives lost?

    Fuck these guys. War should be fought by people. It should be a horrific ordeal and one that is not entered into lightly. Making decisions based on the knowledge that there are no repercussions is tantamount to driving down Route 66 with a blindfold. Maybe you'll miss everything in the road. However the more likely outcome is that you'll kill everyone out there and evenutally yourself. This type of weapon makes America more unsafe, more prone to domestic terrorism, and more likely to get involved in other frivolous wars.
    • This type of weapon makes America more unsafe, more prone to domestic terrorism, and more likely to get involved in other frivolous wars.

      So you were there for the explanation they gave Dubbya on this?
    • I'm pretty sure there will be lots of human enemies to make the war horrific enough provided this technology is successful.
    • Re:Oddly ironic (Score:3, Informative)

      by generic-man (33649)
      The robot in question is named Spinner, not "Spiner." Both of the linked articles say so; it's just the article submitter that put in the accidental Star Trek TNG reference.
      • Never mind. The submitter got it right. It's just a few knee-jerk commenters that confused "Spinner" with "Spiner."
      • yup, there probably not a Star Trek reference (and if there was it'd make more sense to be Wesley Crusher, the one that was involved in a billion plot segments with Data).

        Spinner surely refers to the fact that it moves around wildly because they can't get the controls corrected, and Crusher refers to what inevitably happens when they try to move it around objects
        • Spinner surely refers to the fact that it moves around wildly because they can't get the controls corrected, and Crusher refers to what inevitably happens when they try to move it around objects

          Wrong. Spinner is named after the ability of the center core to spin around the longitudinal axis in order to right the comm and sensor masts after the vehicle is inverted.

          I don't know why they picked the name Crusher, but I'm guessing it has to do with a demo of Spinner where they ran over a car to show the ter
    • Re:Oddly ironic (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country."
      - George S. Patton
    • Re:Oddly ironic (Score:3, Informative)

      by truckaxle (883149)
      How much lower will our resolve to make peace be when the cost to ourselves in a war is insignificant?

      Cost? What cost? At the start of the last war we even got a tax break. We put the cost onto our children. Thats the way to fund a war - no pain just cool video clips on the tube.

      The current cost of the iraq war [nationalpriorities.org] is sitting around $270 x 10^9. That is around a $1000 bill for each citizen or about $22,500 per tax payer! I think before the start of any war it should be a law that the cost should be projected an
      • Re:Oddly ironic (Score:2, Insightful)

        by BodhiCat (925309)
        Yes, Iraq is not a very cost effective war, as was also Vietnam. The Second World War, while more costly in material and lives did gain the U.S. acess to world resources and markets. If Iraq was the quick Blitzkrieg that Rumsfeld though it would be, despite the critics, then it might have been cost effective in terms of resouces gained (oil) and world prestige. Instead we are stuck in another quagmire in a country where enough of the poplulation is against us to support a strong rebellion. IANDG, but if
      • The current cost of the iraq war [nationalpriorities.org] is sitting around $270 x 10^9. That is around a $1000 bill for each citizen or about $22,500 per tax payer! I think before the start of any war it should be a law that the cost should be projected and be paid by the current generation in a reasonable time span.

        While I agree with you on principle, what will happen is just what the other reply said - all wars will just be presumed to be trivial, fast and cheap, both on purpose t

      • The current cost of the iraq war [nationalpriorities.org] is sitting around $270 x 10^9. That is around a $1000 bill for each citizen or about $22,500 per taxpayer

        Soooo, wait a sec... only one citizen in 22 or so pays taxes?? Methinks you forgot to carry a one.
      • But if you compare the current gulf war to stats on previous engagements, it is still a minor effort.

        http://www.cwc.lsu.edu/cwc/other/stats/warcost.htm [lsu.edu]

        Economic costs more than GWI but about half of Vietnam and similar to Korea, nothing compared to WWII. That page has 1990s dollars, so we are off by a decade.

        Also, a lot of the money spent goes to rebuilding efforts I believe. Think of it as military costs plus the Marshall plan.

        As for casualties and people engaged, GWII is a minimal effort.

        The scariest pa
        • The scariest part of your post is that there appear to be 23 people for every tax payer. That is crazy, but probably true in the US.

          You forgot the 22 million illegal aliens in the country. They typically don't pay taxes. So they account for a large part of the number of people that don't pay.
      • What do you smoke? when has a leader EVER in the history of the US ever remained honest and told the people how much something costs.
    • Re:Oddly ironic (Score:2, Interesting)

      ...and Gates McFadden playing the ever-luscious Dr. Beverly Crusher.

      I just could never get interested in Dr. Crusher. She just didn't ever seem...foxy.

      How ironic, then, that these unmanned war machines fly in the face of the famous Star Trek TOS episode A Taste of Armageddon

      So...you're saying that unmanned vehicles shouldn't be used in war because of...a TV show? I'm sure I'm missing some of your logic here.

      ..where the inhabitants of a planet who have been at war with each other for 500 years have simpl

      • I don't think you realize just how confusing this is to someone who has never seen star trek. (this is from star trek, right?).

        So what exactly is going on? There is a simulated fight between two different sides (say Axis vs. Allies, circa 1943), that no one gets hurt in? How then can there be casualties? People are totally killed, rather than just "scratched"?

        There must be a wikipedia entry on this.

        Thanks in advance.
    • Re:Oddly ironic (Score:3, Insightful)

      by khallow (566160)
      Fuck these guys. War should be fought by people. It should be a horrific ordeal and one that is not entered into lightly. Making decisions based on the knowledge that there are no repercussions is tantamount to driving down Route 66 with a blindfold. Maybe you'll miss everything in the road. However the more likely outcome is that you'll kill everyone out there and evenutally yourself. This type of weapon makes America more unsafe, more prone to domestic terrorism, and more likely to get involved in other
    • by vertinox (846076) on Monday April 17, 2006 @12:12PM (#15142711)
      Fuck these guys. War should be fought by people.

      Well, in a perfect world, wars would be fought by a handful of kids and nerf darts. In a perfect world we wouldn't have B-52s and nuclear bombs.

      But guess what... War isn't about being nice. War is about destroying the enemy any means possible.

      War is horrible yes, but if you think they are making robots just to save human life because they are humanists, you've got another thing coming.

      Robots are coming because they win wars. Sure... A dead soldier is less expensive than a robot, but what happens in a protracted war in which a nation has tens if not hundreds of thousands of casualties like WWII?

      They can build more robots, but they can't instantly build more men. Germany lost WWII simply because it could not replace its huge casualties in its officer core nor replace all its well trained fighter pilots after several years of attrition.

      What if this same nation could simply replace all its air craft with automated fighters and robotic tanks?

      The simply have to outproduce the enemey and they win.

      Any nation that fails to use robotics in warfare will loose to a nation that correctly implements said technology. We simply do not have a choice.

      Wars will be fought by robots.
    • Re:Oddly ironic (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PeeAitchPee (712652)

      Fuck these guys. War should be fought by people. It should be a horrific ordeal and one that is not entered into lightly. Making decisions based on the knowledge that there are no repercussions is tantamount to driving down Route 66 with a blindfold. Maybe you'll miss everything in the road. However the more likely outcome is that you'll kill everyone out there and evenutally yourself. This type of weapon makes America more unsafe, more prone to domestic terrorism, and more likely to get involved in other

    • Following that logic, we should not only continue to use manned supply trucks, but they should have defensive measures like armor removed to ensure that every supply run risked sufficient suffering.
      I can see trying to sell THAT to my troops! "Airman Snuffy, it's your day to be a designated casualty, er, I mean drive the supply truck.... Be assured that your heart-wrenching suffering as you are immolated by an IED blast will give the folks back home pause as they contemplate the consequences of this war."
  • by a_nonamiss (743253) on Monday April 17, 2006 @10:25AM (#15141982)
    I am wondering how much of this technology is adapted from technology created for the DARPA Grand challenge [darpa.mil]? There are some interesting connections there, notable the involvement of Carnegie Mellon University. They didn't win the DARPA challenge, but they seemed to be the favorites from the outset, and took second and third place. I know that they are known for their robotics department, but did they work with DARPA as a result of thier participation in the Grand Challenge? Anyone have any insight on this?
    • I know that they are known for their robotics department, but did they work with DARPA as a result of thier participation in the Grand Challenge? Anyone have any insight on this?

      CMU and its Robotics Institute has worked with DARPA long before the Grand Challenge, and will likely continue to work with them long into the future.
    • by badonkey (968937) on Monday April 17, 2006 @11:01AM (#15142184)
      Preface: I'm a CMU student, and have worked on this specific project. --

      This project has always been kept separate from the grand challenge. Spinner/Crusher are brought to us by CMU's NREC (National Robotics Engineering Center), while the RedTeam is responsible for CMU's involvement in the Grand Challenge. We never had communication or shared technology with the RedTeam.

      It would be rather unfair to the Grand Challenge if years of DARPA funded research/development (like Spinner/Crusher) were used to win a DARPA sponsored competition. And I can say with confidence that Spinner/Crusher would have dominated the Grand Challenge. The resources at NREC's disposal can't be matched by a (mostly) volunteer group of students.

      In short, CMU's contract with DARPA was established well before the Grand Challenge - the Spinner/Crusher research/development began several years ago. I'm flattered you think we're good enough to throw this together as a result of the Grand Challenge, though ;)
      • Great. That's exactly the insight I was looking for. I didn't really think that something like the Spinner/Crusher robot could be thrown together in a year, but I was interested to know the connection between these two entities. Whether they shared technologies, and whether the DARPA Grand Challenge technology was used for the military projects. (Since that was the stated goal of the Grand Challenge in the first place)
      • I read an article in wired about the pretty spiffy, learning, video processing algorithm the Grand Challenge bot used. Not sharing technology seems kind of limiting to me.

        When are you going to mount a gun on this robot?

        Can they be produced cheaply? (are the computers just ruggedized PCs? can the sensor packages be obtained for a reasonable price per vehicle)
        • Not sharing technology seems kind of limiting to me.

          Your comment is based on the assumption that the research/techniques/algorithms used on these vehicles doesn't already match/surpass what was implemented by students as an extra-curricular project. Here's a bit of background:

          Before Spinner was deployed, there were two separate projects at NREC:

          1) PerceptOR - a project devoted to development of advanced processing/sensing techniques on autonomous vehicles
          2) UGCV - (Unmanned Ground Combat Vehic
          • Well, the wired article indicated the algorithm was a breakthrough. (the software 'learns' what objects shaped a certain way look like in the distance, hundreds of thousands of times)

            It wouldn't be the first time a few students from an elite school beat out a better funded project with a clever approach or algorithm. THEIR software won a contest against a lot of competitors, and made it across the desert. Is it better? It seems reasonable to speculate it might be. Apple has a lot few programmers and a
            • Apple has a lot few programmers and a smaller budget than Microsoft....

              Apple also based OSX on a research variation of Unix developed at CMU and in doing so kept their actual contributions down. Those "few programmers" didn't come close to taking the project from start to finish. Poor example, but I do appreciate your point.

              THEIR software won a contest against a lot of competitors, and made it across the desert.

              RedTeam may have won a public contest (er... second and third place?), but DARPA ha
              • Thank you. The point of my post was not to point to specific technology, but the fact that the history of innovation and technology is positive choc full of examples where the smaller, less funded, sometimes flat out discredited scientists or engineers create something far better than the 'bigger' team. Microsoft seems like a smoking gun example because according to the news, they have the largest programming budget in the world. They also headhunt a ton of top programmers, and their management style is
  • by VJTod (563763)
    Uh... So when are we going to see a consumer version of this beast? Ala, the Jeep and the Hummer.
    • Uh... So when are we going to see a consumer version of this beast? Ala, the Jeep and the Hummer.

      Right about the time the market figures out that consumers want a 6-ton robot pickup truck the same way they want a utility/vanity off-road automobile.

      In other words, right about the time we're going to see consumer versions of the five-ton truck and the main battle tank.
  • by Trelane (16124) on Monday April 17, 2006 @10:29AM (#15142013) Journal
    Spinner and Crusher in action
    Am I the only one wishing they'd paint the latter one pink, give it a big feather boa, and call it "The Crushinator"?
  • by certel (849946)
    And so it begins. Who's putting bets on judgement day? ;)
  • by KlomDark (6370)
    I hear it's nickname is "Wesley" - it's kind of annoying while at work, but a really nice guy when not working.
  • Here's a good resource for Darpa's unmanned vehicle race: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/darpa/ [pbs.org]

    http://religiousfreaks.com/ [religiousfreaks.com]
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Monday April 17, 2006 @10:40AM (#15142052) Homepage Journal
    Being able to transport items combat troops is definitely going to be a major use for these machines so I have to ask the question. How long before they are armed? After all if you can just shoot it up it pretty much negates its use, if it can target and return fire that would aid the mission. Of course if you can defend yourself you can be offensive.

    This would not only be useful in "declared zones" but undeclared humanitarian ones as well. Think of a place like Dafur (who everyone refuses to allow combat troops to go to - NATO was told no as well) where you have militants who would definitely intefere with aid packages.

    Machines like this could also be equipped to go places too hazardous or just generally inaccessible by normal means. Drop one or two off in the remote areas for monitoring of conditions... If they could survive forest fires they could be used to rescue smoke jumpers who get in trouble or deliver supplies over logging roads through already burning areas.

    One of the few times automating transport is harder for ground based versus air based.

    On another note, how long before some developer decides to make them look closer to some famous movie machines?
    • by Jonboy X (319895) <jonathan.oexner@alum . w p i.edu> on Monday April 17, 2006 @11:01AM (#15142180) Journal
      Being able to transport items combat troops is definitely going to be a major use for these machines...

      Quick question: If they're already being used for moving troops...why bother having it drive itself? I could see how drive-by-radio might potentially be unreliable if you think your enemy will somehow jam your control signals, but if your vehicle's already full of people, why not just make one drive the thing?
      • I believe the OP intended to say "Being able to transport items to combat troops is definitely going to be a major use for these machines...". That's what these are supposed to be used for, anyway- the most vulnerable and costly part of an army is its supply lines. Replacing human-driven supply lines with these would allow the drivers and other personnel associated with the supply lines to be moved to the front lines, or wherever else they were needed. You could also expend a lot less resources on protectin
    • How long till they are armed? Do a google or wikipedia search for Future Combat Systems and you'll find out all that there is to know about the timeline. Look for key words like Armed Ground Vehicle. That might give you the first hint as to what they will be doing.


    • One definite advantage over human-driven vehicles is that it could hibernate indefinitely. If they get the price down enough you could parachute 1-200 of these in a troubled spot and have them hide as best as they can (not too much, the point is to know they're there after all). And then wait for somebody to make a wrong move. If they get low on fuel they'll simply drive to the nearest base (preferably without freaking out civilians). If they're driven remotely they can probably
    • I have to ask the question. How long before they are armed?

      You man like this [mikeslist.com]?
  • Wow! With an unmanned behemoth like that, we'll find bin Laden in no time!

    I wish there were a check box on my taxes that said, "Don't spend my tax money on military BS."
    • I wish there were a check box on my taxes that said, "Don't spend my tax money on military BS."

      Not withstanding that the Legislative and Executive branches would NEVER relinquish such power, I would normally criticize such a move. Primarily, it would esculate to groups demanding THEIR favorite despised branch of the government include "opt out" funding on that same tax form.
      The initial results of that would likely be agencies spending YOUR tax money on advertising on why THEY should recieve a percentag
      • Not withstanding that the Legislative and Executive branches would NEVER relinquish such power

        Yup, idle Monday morning daydreaming...

        I would normally criticize such a move.

        I believe you're criticizing it right now. No need for the hypothetical.

        Primarily, it would esculate to groups demanding THEIR favorite despised branch of the government include "opt out" funding on that same tax form.

        We've already got a form of that. People protest wars, they complain about where their taxes go. This way, if you're an
    • Only if I get a box to check that says "Please spend all of my tax dollars on giant killer robots, and none of it on educating poor people or any other pansy shit."

      Seriously -- that's not a road you want to go down. Given a choice, I think a lot more people will put their money towards Things That Go Boom instead of rather boring stuff like education, libraries, or highway maintenance.
      • Given a choice, I think a lot more people will put their money towards Things That Go Boom instead of rather boring stuff like education, libraries, or highway maintenance.

        If you assume that the majority of the population doesn't know what's best for itself, you might as well just abandon Democracy right now. As it stands, we already elect leaders who promise to blow shit up rather than spending our taxes on things that improve our standard of living. This just cuts out the middle man.
    • While this robot is not essential to our goal of capturing Bin Laden or disabling his networks directly, you must remember that every operation "over there" requires an extremely long logistics line.

      Invariably, all operations that this unmanned cargo hauler enhances, speeds up, or makes more reliable will improve the military's overall flexability and move us closer to a totally network-centric wartime solution. A solution that will eventually yeild Bin Laden and combats terrorism much more effectivly th
  • Here is a direct link to the video of Crusher in action http://www.rec.ri.cmu.edu/projects/ugcv/videos/ind ex.htm [cmu.edu]
  • This would be a great step toward unmanned equipment transport between Hot Zones.

    Pre-planned combat information would be set and you could send this bad boy into battle to deliver supplies to front lines, carry out casualties, or even deliver pizza to the newly taken neighborhood.

    I know I'll get whacked for this last comment, but here goes:

    War is a fact of life, it will never go away, so quit whining. However, we can create things like this to minimize losses (to both our troops and enemies).

    An excellent u
  • by CamShaft (103126)
    Do not trust the crusher robot
    He is malfunctioning
    Do you have stairs in your house?
  • I totally crushed a beer can with my forehead after watching those cars get smashed at the end of the second linked video. ROCK ON!
  • RC vehicles have been around for ages. To me, the only interesting question is: HOW is it controlled? How are the commands authenticated? concealed? transmitted (and jammed?) What happens when the signal is lost? What happens when bogus signals are received?

    The information security is all that really matters.

    If I were designing it, I would use a directional antenna to a satelite using RSA-type signed commands. This would be over a key-shifting or OTP encrypted link. As a backup, I would use a laser ink to a
    • Not very creative. Bounce radio signals off of the ionization trails left by meteors, or bounce lasers off the Moon. Those two methods have been declassified, making me wonder just how bizarre the actual methods are!
  • I predict that eventually one of the unintended consequences of using more autonomous vehicles on the battlefield will be that the U.S. military's response to any hostile force will be viewed as being "disproportionate" and unjust.

    In other words, if our "soldiers" are robots and their soldiers are men, then their attacks will simply kill our robots, but our subsequent response will kill men. Adversaries will decry, "How can you go around shooting our people when all we did was shoot at a few of your machine
  • The first was called Spinner, but the second was called Crusher. Is that because "Fuchikoma" was already taken? My ghost is whispering to me...
    • Because this one pushes over trees. 30 foot tall trees with 6" diameter trunks. It can basically deforest an entire area if the operator isn't careful.

      They greatly improved the front-end structure in moving from Spinner v1.1 to Crusher (Spinner 2.0). Since the first vehicle was near impossible to flip over, the inversion mechanism was eliminated (they had to use a crane top flip the vehicle over, to test the inversion system period). The result is a much more durable and capable vehicle.
  • Thing is we don't want "New and improved!" wars, we just don't want wars.

    I won't even go into how ridiculous the project in question is.

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