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17 Dec 13. Robots to the rescue: Humanoid systems take up DARPA’s challenge. The current state of robotics will be put to a serious test this weekend as 17 robots and software teams take their autonomous unmanned systems to Florida for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Robotics Challenge. They might look like Robocop or some kind of praying mantis, but they all have the same mission: assisting humans in man-made or natural disasters, particularly in going where humans dare not go. They need to be able to navigate indoors and outdoors, operate tools ranging from a sledge hammer to a screwdriver, and possible even operate a fire truck that DARPA said might be at the scene. The challenge, which takes place Dec. 20-21 at the Homestead Miami Speedway, was prompted the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown in Japan, where an earthquake and tsunami had knocked out the backup power systems that cooled the reactors, DARPA said. Fuel in three of the reactors melted, resulting in explosions and the release of radiation. One goal of the challenge is to see if robots could be capable of defusing such a situation, said Dr. Gill Pratt, DARPA’s Robotics Challenge program manager. That disaster established some of the tests the robots are to perform, such as knocking down a wall, opening a door, clearing debris, finding a leaking pipe and closing a valve and replacing a cooling pump. But, as DARPA notes, the eight tasks set for the test could apply in a wide variety of disasters, and the challenge will put equal emphasis on each of them. The competition is designed to be difficult, and the outcome will set the baseline for the current state of robotics, Pratt said. (Source: Defense Systems)

17 Dec 13. The MOD has, for the first time, opened the doors to its Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) control centre, based in the UK. Reaper is just one of a range of UAS, including remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), operated by all three Services providing vital, life saving intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance on operations. Showing this work is a key way to dispel some common myths about the role of the equipment, which UK forces use predominantly in Afghanistan.
During a visit to RAF Waddington Defence Secretary Philip Hammond viewed the full range of current and future equipment including:
* Hermes 450 (Army)
* Black Hornet Nano (Army)
* Tarantula Hawk (Army)
* Watchkeeper (Army)
* Scan Eagle (Royal Navy)
Mr Hammond also spoke to infantry soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan who spoke of the benefits the ‘eyes in the sky’ can provide troops on the ground.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said, “Vital to our efforts to protect our forces and the people of Afghanistan, this battle-winning technology allows us to: understand the situation on the ground more clearly; develop better intelligence; and precisely strike, within our rules of engagement, those who threaten or hurt the people we are protecting. Much of the criticism of Unmanned Aerial Systems is based on misunderstanding. This event provides a great opportunity to better inform people about these life-saving assets and their variety of purpose.”
Air Vice-Marshal Philip Osborn, Joint Force Command Capability Director, said, “The UK’s unmanned aircraft systems – or as they are increasingly called ‘remotely piloted air systems’ – provide UK and Coalition Forces with vital intelligence derived from the aircraft’s unique ability to loiter over the enemy for hours, and provide persistent surveillance of enemy positions without putting our Servicemen and women at unnecessary risk. In today’s operational environment, unmanned and remotely piloted air systems are increasingly vital to keep one step ahead of the enemy, and to save military and civilian lives. Highly trained and experienced personnel are at the heart of the capability, and human oversight and control is always paramount. This is a capability just like every other across Defence – it has

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