You might be looking at Horizon: Zero Dawn (opens in new tab)’s beautiful robotic wildlife and thinking it’s way out there conceptually. That kind of technology could never actually exist, surely? However (dramatic chord stab) we are actually building robot animals. Okay, maybe not quite at the level of a self sustaining, self aware robot tyrannosaurs just yet, but work is ongoing what could eventually be his great, great, great grandfather.
So let’s take a look at how we’re sowing the seeds of our own doom. Sure, they look cool now, but don’t come crying to me when they start smashing in doors and barking orders at the ‘puny human flesh bags.’
Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini
If anyone’s going to bring mankind to its knees it’s Boston Dynamics. They can’t seem to stop building kill bots with nine projects on the go currently (opens in new tab). The company created Big Dog in 2008 and has been building increasingly better, smaller and more advanced robot monsters ever since.
The latest model, the slimline SpotMini, now also has a dinosaur head that definitely doesn’t have the eyes of a cold blooded killing machine.
It’s also highly likely that when our robot overlords finally rise up it will all be traced back to researchers’ penchant for kicking the damn things to show off the ‘not falling over tech’.
I think I’d have a grudge against mankind after a few years of that.
Techject’s robot dragonfly
Okay, so one might not seem threatening. But now imagine a swarm of them, all having heard about how all the ground robots keep getting kicked. Techject (opens in new tab) is pitching this as a perfect tool for surveillance and aerial photography but it’s one gun attachment away from being a flying deathbot.
Which, by the way, is also a thing people are trying to make happen:
The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology’s Raptor
The Korea Advanced Institute (opens in new tab) seem proud of creating a robot that can run at 46km/h and is based on a velociraptor. For some reason this illustration doesn’t set off any sort of alarm at all:
As you can see, the institute’s basically built the bottom half of a perfectly evolved killing machine. It’s only a matter of time before someone starts wondering what to put on the top half. Perhaps, most worryingly, the Korea Institute don’t seem to have any reason to build the thing, there’s no practical application offered, it just exists. Waiting for its moment.
Kongsberg Maritime’s 'swimming robot’
Because why would the water be any safer in our mechanically dominated future? At least Kongsberg Maritime (opens in new tab) has the honesty upfront to give it a pair of red killer-bot eyes. Supposedly this is meant to carry out inspections and minor repairs at the bottom of the ocean, but but no good can come from an army of autonomous snake robots hanging around the bottom of the ocean making plans.
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering’s robo-frog
You might think a robot frog couldn’t possibly be dangerous, and it’s clearly an issue the Wyss Institute (opens in new tab) worked hard to solve - which is the only possible explanation for why hoppy here uses explosions to jump. Every time it leaps it’s the result of a small butane and oxygen detonation in that central hub. While it’s potentially the cutest ‘bot here, it literally already has a weapon built in - it’s basically a mobile bomb. As long as no one gives it enough of a brain to realise that, we might just be alright.
Boston Dynamics’ Rise
Boston Dynamics (opens in new tab) again with a robot that can climb any surface, because why wouldn’t you build that? The only real pro here is that it’s slow, and you could easily run downstairs when it reaches you just to really piss it off. Still, it means walls are now another thing to worry about because having the ground, water and sky on the danger list wasn’t enough already.
It’s not the building robot ants that’s the problem here, it’s teaching them to work together that’s kind of a terrible idea. The focus is on developing robots that can talk to each other and cooperate, which definitely won’t lead to the ruin of mankind at any point in the future. These robo-ants can work independently, as well as communicate to solve problems as a group. They can even charge themselves, although top on the list of WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? are the piezoelectric actuated grippers.