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January 15, 2009

MIT Researchers Create Robotic Forklift for War Zones

Computerworld.com reported Wednesday that MIT researchers are currently testing a robotic forklift prototype for transporting and unloading military supplies in a war zone.
This new technology development is an effort to keep soldiers safer and out of harm's way.
 
A prototype of a “semi-autonomous” forklift was created by MIT scientists who relied on robotics and artificial intelligence technology. The machine can lift and move pallets loaded with tires, water containers or construction supplies, and uses situational awareness software.


photo credit: Jason Dorfman (CSAIL / MIT)

Seth Teller, an MIT professor of computer science and engineering, explained that this special technology enables the forklift to use sensing, inference and memory to memorize the layout of its environment and "move purposefully" within it.
 
Currently, when military supplies are delivered to war zones in Iraq or Afghanistan, people driving the forklifts are frequently in dangerous areas, putting themselves often in the line of enemy fire, said Matt Walter, a researcher in MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
 
Human risk is dramatically reduced when the forklift is morphed into an intelligent robot, added Walter.
 
In Iraq, it is not uncommon for soldiers to "have to abandon the forklift three or four times a day because they come under fire," Walter said.
 
Last June, Frontline Aerospace introduced a driverless aircraft prototype designed to carry hundreds of pounds of supplies to soldiers located war zones.
 
Ryan Wood, CEO of the Broomfield, Colorado-based aerospace firm, said he can foresee a soldier hunkered down in a military hot zone in need of ammunition or fuel.
 
Instead of calling for a manned force to move the supplies to him, the solier opens his laptop and types in his request. The V-Star, a robotic vehicle that can fly 600 to 1,000 miles carrying a full cargo of 400 pounds, is then filled up with supplies and flies them in without risking human lives or holding up needed troops.
 
Last spring, BAE Systems in Nashua, New Hampshire announced that it was creating miniature robots for the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. The robots are designed to look like bugs and fly into war zones, sending back audio and infrared images of enemy troop positions and the weapons they are carrying.
 
Wednesday’s announcement about the robotic forklift mentioned that researchers used computer code that was created for the autonomous vehicle that MIT submitted into DARPA's Grand Challenge auto race. During this competition, different universities and organizations raced their own special driverless vehicles.


Michelle Robart is a contributing editor for RobotXworld. To read more of Michelle's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Michelle Robart


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