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By Debbie Gregory.

By Debbie Gregory.

Students from Knob Noster High School near Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri are being credited for designing an integral spare part that is now onboard all operational B-2 Spirit Bombers and aircraft simulators at Whiteman.

Using a 3-D printer, the “Stealth Panthers” robotics team at the high school created plastic covers for an important switch box inside the B-2 that can prevent possible in-flight emergencies, according to the Air Force.

Pilots had been mentoring robotics team members on other projects. As a result of that partnership, Brig. Gen. John Nichols, the 509th Bomb Wing commander, was curious if the students could come up with a solution for a switch cover.

The team worked with pilots and engineers last fall to create and test the 3D-printed prototype in a B-2 Spirit training simulator. The part prevents the inadvertent flip of an important switch that pilots use that will essentially turn off the generator and hydraulics but keep the engine on.

The plastic cover attaches to the switch panel with Velcro and protects the switches from being accidentally flipped, base officials said. Although the switches aren’t easily flipped, inadvertently doing so could be catastrophic. Each cover is marked with a control number; pilots are assigned one when they step into the aircraft and return it at the end of the mission. 

“The B-2 Spirit cockpit is equipped with state-of-the-art, cutting-edge technology, but is a very cramped space, so something was needed to keep the pilots or other items from bumping into the switches,” said Capt. Keenan Kunst, a base spokesman. “The students were able to help us find a solution that was quick, affordable and effective.” The covers cost about $1.25 to produce.

Base officials were surprised at how quickly and efficiently the students produced something.

“Seventy-two hours after the initial design concept, the robotics team 3-D printed a cover for four important switches in the $2.2 billion aircraft,” Nichols mentioned in a base statement.

The school district received a $2.25 million grant for robotics and STEM programs from the Department of Defense Education Activity. About two-thirds of the district’s 1,600 students are connected to Whiteman.

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,

The Army Is Looking for a Few Good Robots

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By Debbie Gregory.

Robotics manufacturers are scrambling for more than a half billion dollars in Pentagon contracts for compact battlefield robots that will defuse bombs and scout ahead for soldiers on the battlefield. The Army’s immediate plans envision a new fleet of 5,000 ground robots of varying sizes and levels of autonomy.

The fight to win the contract shines a light on the need to stay competitive in the merging of technology and national defense, as international adversaries could come to dominate battlefield robotics.

During a Senate hearing last May, Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley warned that China and Russia “are investing heavily and very quickly” in air, sea, and ground bots.

“My personal estimate is that robots will play a significant role in combat inside of a decade or a decade and a half,” Milley added.

The intention of the project is to someday help troops “look around the corner, over the next hillside and let the robot be in harm’s way and let the robot get shot,” said Paul Scharre, a military technology expert at the Center for a New American Security.

Concerns that popular commercial drones made by Chinese company DJI could be vulnerable to spying led the Army to ban their use by soldiers in 2017.

The biggest contract, worth $429 million, calls for mass producing robots that are light, easily maneuverable and can be “carried by infantry for long distances without taxing the soldier,” said Bryan McVeigh, project manager for force projection at the Army’s research and contracting center in Warren, Michigan.

A $100 million contract for a mid-sized reconnaissance and bomb-disabling robot was won in late 2017 by Endeavor, a spinoff of iRobot which makes Roomba vacuum cleaners.

Unlike the efforts by China and Russia to design artificially intelligent war-fighting arsenals, the U.S. Defense Department is cautious about developing battlefield machines that make their own decisions.

A report from the Congressional Research Service in November stated that despite the Pentagon’s “insistence” that a human must always be in the loop, the military could soon feel compelled to develop fully autonomous systems if rivals do the same.

By Debbie Gregory.

As the power of artificial intelligence grows, Army officials are hoping that a consortium of experts in non-military robotics can assist combat units in defeating the enemy.

The Army’s Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate (CDID) at Fort Benning has partnered with the National Advanced Mobility Consortium to address some of the military’s problems.

Army officials are hoping the collaboration will result in a solution that can be used for precision engagement in close urban terrain, for dealing with enemy forces that hide among the population in large cities.

The Army thinks robotics can help soldiers do just that, according to Don Sando, director of CDID.

Current artificial intelligence cannot make better battlefield judgements better than humans, but AI is getting smarter, and one day they could theoretically help limit the loss of innocent lives caught in the crossfire.

The CDID-consortium partnership aims to equip military servicemen with tools that will work to conduct precision engagement in close urban terrain, said Col. Tom Nelson, chief of CDID’s robotics requirement division.

“Within five years, I have no doubt there will be robots in every Army formation,” said Bryan McVeigh, the Army’s project manager for force protection. He touted a record 800 robots fielded over the past 18 months. “We’re going from talking about robots to actually building and fielding programs,” he said. “This is an exciting time to be working on robots with the Army.”

But “killer robots” have sparked a moral and ethical discussion.

“It seems inevitable that technology is taking us to a point where countries will face the question of whether to delegate lethal decision-making to machines,” said Paul Scharre, a senior fellow and director of the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security.

The partnership will have between now and April to conceptualize precision strike platforms, with the goal of presenting either prototypes or proposals at the National Defense Industry Association’s National Robotic Conference.