Emerging Tech

Metal Storm weapon system to be implemented into robot platform

Australia-based Metal Storm has delivered a four-barrel version of a new class of weapon - that uses computer-controlled electronic ignition for firing, to the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

Australia-based Metal Storm has delivered a four-barrel version of a new class of weapon  that uses computer-controlled electronic ignition for firing to the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

If you don't already know (Excerpt from CNET News.com):

Metal Storm weapons use multiple, "lightweight, economical barrels" mounted in pods on a variety of platforms that can fire a wide selection of munitions. The projectiles are stacked in-line in the barrel - nose to tail - so there are no magazines, no shell casings, and no mechanical components.

Because a small electrical current is used for firing instead a conventional firing pin, the stacked rounds can be fired at an astounding rate of up to 1 million rounds per minute. Hence, it is easy to see how the name 'metal storm' pretty much fits the bill here.

Moving on, however, we find a very interesting nugget of information in the same CNET News.com article:

... This makes them ideal for unattended area denial or picket duty. They are also easily adapted to light vehicles and robot platforms. In fact, the company just signed an MOU with iRobot Government & Industrial Robots to combine its robot platforms with Metal Storm's scalable systems.

Metal StormAlready, one version of the metal storm weapon systems, the Redback, features a remotely operated 40mm that can automatically track targets by slewing around at almost 2 complete revolutions per second.

A quick search of YouTube reveals that there are working prototypes of area-denial versions comprising of at least three separate auto-acquisition turrets.

On the robotic end, iRobot makes the Packbot, which is a tough tracked robot that is able to climb stairs, roll over rubble, rocks, mud and snow, using a patented flipper to stay right-side-up.

It was only last month that I wrote a report in IT News Digest titled Robotic anti-aircraft gun goes rogue, killing nine. In that article, I asked whether we are placing too much computer automation into weapons that kill.

I don't know about you, but an out-of-control robot wielding million-rounds-per-minute weapon systems don't particularly appeal to me.

With the above facts in mind, I want to pose the same question to you today: Are we placing too much on computer automation in weapons that kill?

About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

10 comments
JCitizen
JCitizen

given our penchant for total unacceptance of battlefield casualties and expensive volunteer Army. So far fratricide and the incidence of collateral civilian casualties has dropped sharply in the last ten years; in fact almost exponentially. Maybe this signals the tipping point?

BrendanMeehan
BrendanMeehan

While I agree with the author that the idea of a machine pulling the trigger and killing a human being mistakenly is unsettling the fact of the matter is that accidental deaths are as old as warfare itself. Just think of Stonewall Jackson from the Civil War and Pat Tillman from Afghanistan.

paulmah
paulmah

Are we placing too much on computer automation in weapons that kill?

mykmlr
mykmlr

After Vietnam, America developed an allergy to fighting a well equipped, entrenched foe with asymmetric capability. We're losing less only because we're putting fewer troops in the field. Given the unbridled failures such as the B1-B, the Sgt. York, the Patriot Missile (zero shot down during Oilwar 1 according to GAO review), etc., why should we have faith now? Likewise, the utter failure of Urban Challenge to even approach the complexity of a battlefield in motion should be a hint that the providers of these 'weapons' know full well they have nothing to sell yet.

mykmlr
mykmlr

We aren't talking about men failing under stress, but poor software written by profit-motivated (hence likely to lie whenever the question of public safety is raised...nee Bophal and TMI) whose sole purpose is to sell the product. If it fails to deny access, for instance, what then? Can it be fooled into using up all 8 or 12 munitions in its barrels? Can it be fooled into firing upon our troops or maintenance people? None of these questions can be left to the Generals who are banking on a job with the contractor, or their subordinates, and certainly not on the Sgt. York makers of the world.

jp-mattenet
jp-mattenet

This is nothing new, we are just waking up to this reality. Robots (or automated machines) are the next battle frontier. The race is on, and we will need to define what is acceptable and what is not before it is too late (as it is the case with nuclear power). What it's a shame is that episode like this will have a very negative imprinting in the consumers mind.. if Robots are associated with "evil" machines, we may face a tough time moving forward with what robots are really about.

JCitizen
JCitizen

by a sceptical public; I hope. President Eisenhower warned us about it and we should heed such warning.

DanLM
DanLM

Poor software and machines that are not fully tested? If a new tank fails that is put into battle, how many lives are lost? If a new plane fails, and I'm thinking of the Marine transport, how many lives are lost? Seriously, how are robotic weapons any different then other weapons when they are put into service? If they fail, any of them, they kill the wrong people. Dan

mykmlr
mykmlr

Bad designs kill a few dozen...UNLESS we have a software bug that can lay dormant for years waiting for a hacker or trial and error to find the right combination. Then, instead of unreasoning but limited assaults on 'friendly' troops, you get a wholesale slaughter. The easiest way to envision this is "Unnamed system failure" message branching to east fishkill on your PC means three finger salute. On a metal storm or equivalent, it means a company, or worse a division, wiped out in a single failure that may be indicative of a code failure everywhere in the military. And we KNOW companies cover up these kind of failures constantly.