For the Pentagon, driverless cars will come a lot sooner—and they’ll save lives and rewrite the rules of the battlefield, for better or worse.
This is where Silicon Valley is going to get trumped, and the Pentagon has one clear advantage: It doesn’t need to go to war on the same level with public opinion and the fear that drives civilians when faced with great unknowns, like artificial intelligence.
For the military, that driverless vehicles will save lives is a foregone conclusion.
This technology renders roadside bombs, or improved explosive devices (IEDs)--of the kind American soldiers ran up against in Iraq or Afghanistan—rather unthreatening. It makes the dangerous jobs of logistics transport far less fatal.
Over half of all combat zone casualties are military personnel engaged in logistics, such as delivering supplies, food and fuel, according to Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin, as reported by Bloomberg.
While Silicon Valley companies like Waymo, Uber and Tesla are battling against public opinion after some fatal crashes that may or may not have been the fault of artificial intelligence, the military has fewer (homegrown) bogeymen and is working towards turning its combat zones into driverless safe havens.
Griffin is in charge of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is the key force behind self-driving car tech research. And while it’s not clear how much DARPA will be borrowing from private tech giants, it is clear that they plan to become driverless before the civilian population does. Related: Dow Jones Jumps Despite Disappointing Jobs Report
IEDs are already responsible for a burgeoning multi-billion-dollar industry in protective gear, featuring everything from robots and computerized prostheses to vehicle and body armor—and much more. As of 2013, USAToday reported, the Pentagon had spent at least $75 billion on armored vehicles and other tools for defending against such weapons.
To put this into perspective, Army Technology notes that “At the height of the Afghan war, the US military consumed around 45 million gallons of fuel a month; the human cost of keeping up with the demand throughout that conflict was one lost to death or injury for every 24 fuel convoys brought in, and the problem persists”.
According to the Washington Post, military engineers are keeping a close eye on autonomous tech developments both in Silicon Valley and Detroit, and would be keen not to reinvent the wheel if they don’t have to.
And not every branch of the military wants the same thing. For the Army, the focus would be on unmanned tanks and vehicles for logistics in zone of combat or conflict, while the Navy is eyeing the potential to put out fires on ships without risking lives, the Washington Post cited the Rand Corporation’s Karlyn Stanley as saying.
BAE Systems Plc is said to be working on unmanned vehicles for the Army: the Ironclad and the Armed Robotic Combat Vehicle.
The Navy is also looking at next-gen tech for large and extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles that can be fitted with artificial intelligence—an interest that has giants Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. in competition. Already this December we expect a critical design review, according to Bloomberg.
But just like self-driving cars on the street, it won’t be an entirely free driverless ride. The Pentagon will still have to convince everyone that they won’t risk civilian lives because the next obvious step in the artificial intelligence drive is unmanned weapons—robotic combat all the way.
By Charles Benavidez for Safehaven.com
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