US Navy Funds MacGyver Robot

The US Navy is funding the development of a robot that can use everyday inanimate objects around it to save lives.

I’ve heard of MacGyver but until today I had absolutely no idea who he was or what he did. I looked him up and it seems he was this American TV character in the 80’s who used to get himself or others out of life-threatening situations by using everyday objects around him to build complex tools and contraptions.

I don’t think he had many special fighting skills or anything. He just had some long, blond 80’s hair, was pretty bright and was very lucky that the various guards never kept an eye on him whenever they locked him somewhere. In fact, very lucky that pretty much every 80’s villain was a complete dunce.

Here’s a quick one to give you an example.  He is thwarting some armed robbers in a supermarket. Armed robbers holding up a supermarket? Really, 80’s? Anyway, the action starts at about 0:47:

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2plcrqkscZQ’]

Well it turns out that the nerds down at the Georgia Institute of Technology are developing a robot that’s gonna work exactly like MacGyver – being able to recognise and understand objects and materials in its vicinity and use them to avert danger and save lives – and the US Navy have given them $900,000.

Is that even that much? Money’s gone all weird these days, I’ve got no idea how much things cost, but then I don’t know how the researchers would actually be going about developing a robot. I’d imagine it’s mostly just computer programming, in which case they shouldn’t need too much money just to develop the software. But it still seems a pretty feeble contribution from the Navy. I mean, they’re developing, like, submarines and aircraft carriers and stuff. They must have loads of money. $900k makes me think they’re just putting their name on the project to make themselves look better, without really believing in the cause. Like when a football player donates a few grand to a charity and people are like “Oh wow, he’s so generous and thoughtful”.

And why should the Navy be the only people to front up some dollar? Surely this kind of robot would benefit all military fields. It would benefit everyone. If the Georgia Institute can get it right, it would be a massive step towards personal robots – proper I-Robot style life-saving, butler robots. If they can get this right – like properly functional every time in a safe and manageable way (and make sure they don’t accidentally give it a conscious, existence-questioning mind with a rebellious streak) – this would be huge.

But the whole buzz about robots seemed to be much bigger a few years ago. I think it was around the time Honda were making that Asimo robot, and everyone was getting all excited about these groundbreaking advancements, until it proceeded to fall down the stairs and smash its head on the ground in an epic fail sort of manner and everyone realised we were still really far away.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTlV0Y5yAww’]

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Maybe we’re still really far away. Maybe it’s not gonna be possible for another decade. Maybe it really isn’t worth throwing money at it just yet while there are other things to sort out, like how we’re going to feed the population of the world and how we’re gonna make sure no one presses a big red button on a nuclear warhead before we’ve had a chance to build some suburbs on Mars.

Hopefully I’m wrong and $900,000 is loads of money to robot developers and it’s actually coming along quite nicely. We’ll keep you posted if this MacGyver-bot ever actually gets made.


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