Dec 28, 2018

The U.S., China and Russia are in a big fight over small robots

Nerekhta military robot at the Army 2018 International Military and Technical Forum in Russia. Photo: Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images

While the U.S. military builds out a robot support force and debates how much autonomy those robots should be given, China and Russia seem to be having no such reservations.

Driving the news: "At stake is a contract worth almost half a billion dollars for 3,000 backpack-sized robots that can defuse bombs and scout enemy positions," the AP's Matt O'Brien reports.

  • "The Army’s immediate plans alone envision a new fleet of 5,000 ground robots of varying sizes and levels of autonomy. The Marines, Navy and Air Force are making similar investments."
  • "'My personal estimate is that robots will play a significant role in combat inside of a decade or a decade and a half,' the chief of the Army, Gen. Mark Milley, said in May."

Between the lines: "The big fight over small robots opens a window into the intersection of technology and national defense and shows how fear that China could surpass the U.S. drives even small tech startups to play geopolitics to outmaneuver rivals."

  • "It also raises questions about whether defense technology should be sourced solely to American companies to avoid the risk of tampering by foreign adversaries."
  • "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."
  • "And in August, the Pentagon published a report that said China is conducting espionage to acquire foreign military technologies."
  • "At a December defense expo in Egypt, some U.S. firms spotted what they viewed as Chinese knock-offs of their robots."

What's next: "It will be a while... before any of these robots become fully autonomous."

  • But the "military could soon feel compelled to develop fully autonomous systems if rivals do the same. Or, as with drones, humans will still pull the trigger, but a far-away robot will lob the bombs."

Go deeper

Updated 46 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 a.m. ET: 5,850,258 — Total deaths: 361,249 — Total recoveries — 2,444,898Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 a.m. ET: 1,724,873 — Total deaths: 101,698 — Total recoveries: 399,991 — Total tested: 15,646,041Map.
  3. Public health: Hydroxychloroquine prescription fills exploded in March —How the U.S. might distribute a vaccine.
  4. Business: Many poor and minority families can't afford food or rent.
  5. 2020: Trump courts Asian American vote amid coronavirus.
  6. ⚽️ Sports: European soccer's push to return.

Trump's big, empty beef with Twitter

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump finally acted on his now year-old threat to take action against social media platforms for alleged bias against conservatives. But so far, according to experts in both government and the industry, the threat looks mostly empty.

Driving the news: Trump escalated his war on Twitter Friday morning, tweeting repeatedly that the company needs to be regulated after it overnight added a warning label to a tweet of his calling for the military to start shooting looters, which violated Twitter’s rules against glorifying violence.

In photos: Protests over George Floyd's death grip Minneapolis

The Third Police Precinct burns in Minneapolis on Thursday night. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Demonstrators demanding justice burned a Minneapolis police station and took control of the streets around it last night, heaving wood onto the flames, kicking down poles with surveillance cameras and torching surrounding stores.

What's happening: The crowd was protesting the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man whose life was snuffed out Tuesday by a white Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for about eight minutes.