|Above: The Cybex Warbot 7000 series developed by the Mechatronics Corp in collaboration with the Cyberprime and
Borgtech Corporations, click to enlarge. This is one of the most advanced weapon systems of its kind in the known Universe.
It has extreme mobility, and is capable of running at sustained speeds of 100 kilometres per hour. Powered by an EPA
antimatter 8X series generator the Cybex can metres tall, the Cybex 7000 is extremely agile and its excellent fire control
systems ensure near 100% accuracy at ranges up to one kilometre. The actuators are operated by advanced polymeric
syntho-muscle fibres which give the Cybex the strength (though not the inertia) of some 20 men.
The Cybex 7000 has a quantum positronium CPU (QX 7990) which is only some 9 cm in diameter but is capable of advanced
and rapid parallel computations for battle-field situations. Some components of this system require freezing to -100 degrees
Celsius for optimum performance and the antimatter generator can also generate large amounts of heat. In addition rapid
movement and use of energy weapons all generate surplus heat which must be dissipated, however, it is important to
maintain a low heat signature for stealth. To achieve this the Cybex 7000 has a thermal screen which converts heat and
infrared radiation into higher frequency electromagnetic energy, either optical light or ultraviolet. This light is radiated
through a crypsis screen which can match the outgoing light to the environment, and thereby providing cryptic camouflage at
the same time as radiating away excess heat energy whilst maintaining a faint infrared signature. The crypsis screen can
also absorb, scatter or reflect hostile laser beams, and other heat attacks, minimising damage from laser hits.
Other defensive systems include a negative screen which provides protection against electrical attacks and repels anyone
who attempts to grapple the Cybex 7000 by administering a severe electrical shock on contact. The microarchitecture of the
armour system is designed to channel frequencies of ultrasound commonly used in sonic beam weapons around the Cybex,
so that the ultrasound passes without causing damage. The armour itself is made up of tough composite materials to absorb
kinetic energy impacts, including a layer which dissipates shock waves that travel through the armour, and thereby
protecting the delicate internal components.
The Cybex 7000 can be equipped with a variety of weapons and tools, the one shown here is armed with 4 Androm X-9
particle cannons (PCs) on its head turret, which can alternate between pulsed or beam mode and between negatively and
positively charged particles. These cannons have a maximum effective range of 500 metres. The right arm is carrying an
Omega-5 Mk 6 variable wavelength armour-piercing laser cannon (APLC), with an effective maximum range of 3 kilometres.
These weapons can also be operated in laser lance mode for drilling through especially tough armour plate, such as on the
hull of a warship. The left arm is carrying the Battletex Epsilon-theta Mk 5 heavy ion cannon (HIC) which can operate in beam
mode or in wide-field mode when used to disrupt communications and electrical equipment.
The principles of robotics
We shall compare robotic systems to living systems with particular reference to what is possibly the most sophisticated robot
so far developed by Earthlings, ASIMO developed by Honda, and the human being. Search for ASIMO in Google or on
Providing energy for robots is no small task. The average human male uses about 120 watts of power averaged over the
course of a day, with peak outputs reaching around 1000 W during sprinting. As a comparison, 120 W is the typical power
provided by a one square metre solar panel, and the power of the Sun's rays striking the Earth's atmosphere is 1366 W per
square metre. The most advanced robots built by Earthlings to date, include the Honda ASIMO humanoid robot is powered
by a 51.8 V lithium-ion battery weighing 6 kilos, which provides enough energy for one hour before it needs recharging and
ASIMO has only the fraction of the athletic power of a real human.
ASIMO can only lift a few kilos in weight. However, human-sized androids have been developed in Japan that can allegedly
lift around 70 Kg. You might think that it was an easy task to give a robot strength, after all heavy hydraulic machinery is
enormously strong, however these systems do not scale down well to the size of a human being. ASIMO uses 34 servo
motors, or electric motors that work by rotating shafts. Such motors are clearly power hungry. Human muscles contains
arrays of protein filaments (polymers, molecular motors) that slide together using chemical energy, causing the muscle to
shorten (animal muscles always pull and never push). Similarly, robot muscles may operate using polymer fibres that change
their conformation or shape, perhaps by coiling into tight helices when an electric current is applied, similarly causing the
muscle fibres to shorten. However, making a 100 kg robot that could lift 250 kg (and thus match some of the strongest
humans) is no easy task.
ASIMO movements are limited. Each of its joints is operated by an electric servo motor, of which there are 34 in all. Humans,
in contrast, the human body has between 565 and 850 separate muscles (the exact number varies between individual and
some muscles may merge and so appear as a single muscle). This gives the human body a much greater range of motion.
However, powering 800 electric motors would require considerably better batteries! Again, molecular motors may be a better
solution. However, ASIMO can walk down steps, run in a circle and lift objects without breaking them.
ASIMO can run at 6 kilometres per hour (compared to a jogging speed of about 13 kilometres per hour for a reasonably fit
human). In humans, the thickness of the muscle as well as the muscle type determines the muscle's strength. However,
longer muscles and longer limbs are faster, all else being equal. This is why sprinters tend to be tall and javelin throwers
tend to be tall to give their long arms speed. However, shorter limbs are stronger, since they have better leverage, so we
would have short and thick limbs for strength and long limbs for speed. Power is another parameter, and is equal to the rate
at which the muscles can do work (the maximum rate at which they can expend useful energy) and this is proportional to the
total volume of the muscle, so for maximum power we would have long and thick limbs. This is one reason why athletes from
different sports are so different in body shape, especially at the elite end of the spectrum. Muscles also come in two main
types - one that is fast and strong but fatigues quickly, and so is useful for sprinting, and one which is slower and weaker but
fatigues much more slowly, and so is good for distance running. The proportions of each muscle type that a human has
depends largely upon genetics - some people innately make better sprinters or weight-lifters whilst others make better
marathon runners. In the end it is impossible to maximise speed, strength, power and speed - at some point there is a
trade-off and one has to compromise or invest most heavily in whichever is most important for the specific purpose.
Humans are often conditioned into thinking that the heavier the better - since weight is good for pushing smaller creatures
out of the way. However, a larger body requires more energy to move and maintain and more raw materials. If you look at a
range of animal species working in Earth's gravity, then you will find that the fastest animals tend to be about 100 kg in
weight and smaller and larger animals tend to be slower (though there are exceptions of course). Smaller animals lack the
muscle power whilst larger animals simply have too much bulk to move (though an elephant can still outrun a human over
short distances)Humans are actually rather slow animals with the fastest humans ranking mediocre in sprinting speed.
However, humans make very good distance runners (with training!). Having less weight to carry certainly means that you use
less energy when travelling over a greater distance. Constructing robots from materials which are light and strong is a major
goal. Lighter materials will mean that less power is needed to move the robot. Sometimes weight is an advantage - when it
comes to crashing through concrete walls, for example, and some warbots are heavily built for this reason, just like heavy
tanks. However, even in main battle tanks, weight reduction is an issue - lighter armour means that more weight can be
carried in munitions, for example. Animals (and plants) are made out of materials that are enormously strong but very light.
Bone is stronger than steel reinforced concrete, but is a fraction the weight. The cellulose and collagen that make up plant
tissues are strong as or stronger than steel, but a fraction of the weight. Carbon-based materials (including animal and plant
tissue components) make very strong structures, such as silk protein, but are much lighter than steel. Proteins have a
consistency rather like plastic, but can be much stronger. Spider silk has a strength comparable to synthetic carbon fibres or
kevlar, but can be made by the spider at room temperature and pressure, using natural and renewable resources.
6. Mental processes
So far the hardest task for robotics engineers on earth has been producing robot brains. ASIMO carries two laptop
computers in its backpack, but still requires a human controller with a joystick, although it performs the details of its
instructed tasks automatically, but it cannot think! Incorporating powerful computers will also increase the power demands of
a robot. The human brain has a power output of about 20 watts - it weighs less than 2% of the body's total weight, but
consumes some 20% of the body's energy. Current estimates place the processing power of the human brain at between
10^15 and 10^20 operations per second, though there are reasons to expect that this could be 1000 times as great as this.
This compares to the Blue Gene supercomputer, the fastest on Earth with 3.6^14 operations per second (strictly floating
point operations per second, or flops per second). Such computers can simulate a simplified mouse brain at one tenth
normal speed, suggesting that the human brain's processing speed is certainly nearer the upper end of the estimates given
(say 10^16 operations per second or higher). The Blue Gene has 2^16 compute nodes and some 64 cabinets. This
compares with the human brain with 10^11 neurones (brain cells), each with some 1500 synapses on average (though some
neurones may have 10 000 synapses or so) gives the brain 10^14 to 10^15 compute nodes, but each is capable of
performing 10 operations per second (and possibly up to 1000), enabling the brain to perform say 10^16 operations per
second. However, in addition to these neurones, there are ten to fifty times as many neuroglial cells in the brain, some of
which appear to have (unknown) functions in processing, enabling the brain to perform perhaps 10^19 operations per
second. There are other possibilities that may further increase this number 10-100 hundred times. Thus, the Blue Gene
supercomputer is probably some 100-1000 000 times short and it would take 100 Blue Genes to stand any chance at all of
matching the human brain and that's at least 6 400 cabinets consuming massive amounts of electricity (26 800 watts per
cabinet or 1.7 million watts in total!) compared to a 1.5 lb brain consuming 20 W! Nevertheless, it does look within the grasp
of Earthling technology to match this complexity soon. A typical desktop computer is way behind at around 10^9 operations
Quantum computers (such as that used by the Cybex 7000) have the potential to thrash the Blue Gene supercomputer
and use much less power and occupy much less space, but Earthlings will have to wait and see how effective these quantum
computers can be. At this point you might be thinking why is it then that the Blue Gene can perform computations vastly
more complex than what you can do in your head. The answer is simply that most of the brain's function is automatic and
subconscious and so you do not have much control over it. That isn't to say that the brain is reckless, rather most of the
brain is involved in calculations concerning internal organs and body maintenance. Also when you catch a thrown ball, you
do not consciously compute velocities, trajectories and angles in order to compute your own trajectory to intercept the ball -
this is done for you, automatically by the vast computational power of your brain. Programming ASIMO to do the same tasks
is proving immensely difficult! Even the tiny brain of an insect has some one million neurones and so may perform an
estimated 10^11 to 10^16 operations per second, still equivalent to a thousand or so desktop PCs!
7. Intelligent materials
Living organisms are made from intelligent materials, by which i mean materials that respond to environmental stress,
modifying themselves when they need to improve and repairing themselves when damaged. Robots too can be constructed
from intelligent materials. Sensors can detect the stresses and strains placed on joints, limbs and motors and skin sensors
can detect damage. Pain is a necessity for conscious organisms. If you did not feel pain then you would not take all the
necessary steps to avoid damage. Some people are born without the genetic ability to perceive pain and these people die
young. In this way, pain is a useful survival aid (though like all systems it can go wrong in the case of useless and debilitating
chronic pain). Pain is often suppressed when an organism is in imminent danger - there are many reports of soldiers, for
instance, not feeling their wounds until help had arrived. Even a tough warbot must be programmed to avoid damage
(indeed warbots especially so) but we do not want inappropriate or debilitating responses. If damaged, materials can be
designed to repair themselves. For example, liquid chemical constituents can be pumped to the damaged area where they
can solidify to form a protective scar, or if more advanced, they may self-assemble into new materials of the right type. Tiny
robots (possibly nanobots) inside the main robot can also assist with repairs, though there are other conceivable methods.
Think how short lived most of the machines around you are (cars and computers etc.) that is partly because they are unable
to repair even daily wear and tear. It is also because biological materials are very durable - even if your bones could not
repair (and they certainly do!) they would last some 20 years of normal usage. (Furthermore, bones actually get stronger
with increased usage). The brain can also respond with damage and wear by re-routing its circuits to make maximum use of
available brain tissue. If your desktop blows its CPU, then it is defunct. The Cybex 7000 incorporates repair and maintenance
systems and can remain active for decades, perhaps even centuries. The Cybex 7000 also has the ability to reroute
damaged circuitry in its central processor, so that quite extensive damage is required to completely put it out of operation.
If you took the eyes of an eagle, the nose of an elephant, the ears of a bat (for sake of arguments) and the ability of a
goldfish to see in infrared and ultraviolet as well as in colour, and the sense of direction of a homing-pigeon and you would
have a very sensitive animal indeed! However, sensors are only as good as the computer that processes the information
they receive. Processing information received from the eyes of a human being take up a large part of the brain, whilst the
sense of smell takes up only a small part in humans (but a large part in dogs) so to have all senses highly tuned would result
in an excessively large brain! Nevertheless, animals are extremely sensitive - their eyes can detect a single photon of light.
Background noise is another limiting factor - the eye may detect a single photon, but you are unlikely to perceive this weak
signal - after all, such a weak signal is hard to distinguish from electrical noise in the optic nerve. The same is true for robots
- designing robots with superhuman senses is not as easy as one might think! First you need a lot of computing power, and
second you need a high signal to noise ratio. Cooling electronics and the use of superconductors and optic fibres may
reduce noise, but the laws of physics mean that noise can never be reduced to zero. Ever been highly alert, listening for a
tiny sound, and have you then noticed how false alarms increase in frequency - did you hear someone's shoe squeek, or did
you imagine it? That is because when you are on full alert, the threshold at which the brain ignores noise is lowered so that
the senses become more sensitive, but at the increased risk of false signals due to noise in the system. You couldn't
concentrate like that all the time though, your brain would tire from working too hard. Likewise robots can be given highly
sensitive sensors with variable thresholds for cutting out noise, but practical limits to sensitivity will always exist.
Think also how much the brain must process in order to make sense of what the eyes see. When you look at a chair under a
desk, you may not see the whole chair, but you will imagine its shape and know that it (probably) has four legs. This is
harder than it sounds. Imagine a computer looking at a simple image, how would it decide where the chair ended and the
desk began? First of all you need stereoscopic vision or depth perception. This is made possible by having two eyes slightly
spaced apart on your head - each takes an image from a slightly different angle and by comparing these two images the
brain can reconstruct a three dimensional image complete with an accurate distance scale. Without this ability you would find
it harder to pick up a cup without missing it. Shadows, textures, movements and contrast also gives additional clues. Similarly
having two ears on either side of your head enables you to tell which direction sound is coming from (off to the left or to the
right) by measuring the time of arrival and intensity of sound in both ears. If in doubt you will turn your head or move about a
bit to get more spatial information.
In the end, even if you can design strong muscles, fast brains and all the rest, there will be a limit based, not just on
engineering trade-offs and compromises (such as the need to minimalise weight or the need to sacrifice strength for speed)
but also on cost, simply in terms of raw materials and the cost of obtaining them. Perhaps, instead of a super-tough heavily
armoured and heavily armed smart robot, half a dozen simpler and cheaper units will be more effective. Often there is no
simple answer. Living organisms face the same problem - raw materials (such as proteins and calcium) and energy are not in
limitless supply for living organisms. Some creatures adopt the strategy of investing heavily in the individual (such as the
elephant or oak tree) in the hope that most individuals will be tough enough to last long enough to reproduce. Alternatively,
one could be small and breed fast (such as a rat or birch tree) and hope that by producing so many individuals, enough will
make it to reproduce, even if most do not. Humans were originally somewhere in-between, and indeed infant mortalities were
historically very high and still are in many parts of the World. However, in more developed countries people have fewer
children and invest many more resources in each individual, which is more like the elephant's strategy. Economics will always
induce relative weaknesses in any machine - the armour of a battle tank is always thickest where it is most likely to be hit,
leaving it with a relatively weak rear and underbelly.
10. Fitness for purpose
In the end it all boils down to how well a machine performs the job it was built for. The Cybex 7000 has already proven its
worth many times in battle. The proof of the pudding is in the eating of it, though ever more realistic virtual simulations help
try and test robots. As for ASIMO - well, I find it hard to see what his purpose is quite frankly, though he is an important
development which will lead onto more potential applications as the technology develops. ASIMO is being improved and
upgraded all the time, so congratulations Earthlings - you have truly joined the Age of Robots.
What is the ultimate machine!
There isn't one! A basic engineering principle says that all machines can be improved, at least in principle, since no machine
is 100% efficient or maximally powerful. It also depends what you want the machine to do. Robotics is tough when it comes to
manufacturing sophisticated weapons like the Cybex 7000 which can operate independently for long periods of time.
Already, simple machines can better humans at very simple tasks for which the machines are specifically designed - humans
were not designed to add lots of numbers very quickly or to manufacture thousands of silicon chips! In the end, even when
machines outperform humans, humans developed, through evolution, on a planet containing nothing more than natural
resources. For robots to equal this characteristic strength of living things, they will need to multiply themselves in a
sustainable manner. Living organisms are not perfected, since evolution does not actually perfect anything - an organism
only needs to be able to compete against its current rivals. Designing robots or even living organisms will enables
development of machines better suited to specific tasks for which they are designed, though engineers on Earth have a long
way to go!
Click here to read an illustrated essay on artificial intelligence. This essay compare robot brains (computers) with the human
brain and addresses the question: can robots or computers be intelligent?
|The key to good robot design is to design a robot with a specific function in
mind. If it doesn't need to move fast then why waste resources (and hence
money) giving it a turbo-antigrav drive? If it is to perform automated tasks,
such as robot assembly, then why give it an advanced quantum brain?
That said, there are situations which call for versatility and the general
purpose robot. A domestic robot may be called upon to perform
maintenance, engage in entertaining conversations, repair a vehicle, or
help children with their school work. To some extent this requires a
compromise in abilities. Human beings came to dominate the planet earth
not because they are the fastest, strongest or toughest, but because of
their versatility. Key to this is the human hand - it has both a power grip and
a precision grip. (The hand of an ape, in contrast, has a power grip but no
precision grip). We can give our robot similar hands to manipulate a wide
range of tools, or we can assemble robots in kit form. This latter approach is
characteristic of the Cybex Robotics Corp. Robots have the advantage that
limbs can be changed and replaced and one can purchase a wide range of
limbs for different jobs. Even heads can be changed - one head might have
sophisticated sensors for reconnaissance, another might have
What limbs would you design for a robot?
|Robots need not be simple mechanical automotons! The robot
above is a hypergenius AI class Custodian of Ustaris. These robots
appear in association with ancient and highly advanced
technological relics scattered across the known galaxies. According
to the archives on Cronodon, they were created by an organic race
of creatures called the Ustar. However, the organic forms have only
been encountered on a single occasion, according to our records,
many thousands of years ago. Usually it is their custodian robots
and their computer-operated installations that are encountered.
Their technology is so advanced that it has eluded complete
analysis. Typically several of these and similar units are networked
to the main computer such that they operate with common purpose.
They have never been reported as hostile unless strongly
provoked. On the contrary they seem to cherish other life-forms and
cosmic biodiversity. They are known to conduct minimally invasive
experiments on life-forms that they encounter. They operate with
the utmost ethics whenever possible.
|These Ustarians have the power to transmit and to transform matter. It seems that they are able to maintain their installations
against decay for many thousands of years by maintaining a mathematical blueprint; they then convert these equations
directly into matter.
Beings such as the Ustari and the Ankaragi force us to question conventional definitions of 'life'. Biological viruses have
already challenged the anthropocentric definition of life used by most Terran scientists. To encompass viruses one has to go
beyond the usual 'seven characteristics of living things', namely: movement, respiration, growth, reproduction, excitability
(ability to respond to changes), excretion (elimination of waste materials) and nutrition (sometimes death is added as an
eighth characteristic). Consciousness is a separate matter and seems to be a property possessed by only certain life-forms
(though one cannot be objectively certain of this). The virus does indeed perform all the 7 or 8 characteristics, but not without
assistance, but then how many organisms can live in isolation from all others? The concept of a 'living organism' starts to
break down. A virus has few connected parts and so is hardly an organism, but it is living in other respects. Instead of
focusing on individuals it is less ambiguous to focus on 'systems' and viruses are parts of living systems, just as human
beings are - both can be conceived as 'living'.
Another key feature of life is its self-sustainability and spontaneous evolution. The Ankaragi are artificial life-forms, they
reproduce and they require natural resources, and like biological viruses they are assembled in 'factories' (viruses being
assembled in cells which are essentially factories). More fundamental attributes of life as we know it, rather than the 7 or 8
characteristics commonly listed, is the ability to store useful information and pass this information on from copy to copy.
Furthermore, the ability to change this information is what enables life to evolve. This information can take the form of
instructions to build new life-forms (chemical DNA) or it can be technological and cultural knowledge. Robots and their
supporting systems (factories) achieve a similar status - they store information, both as blueprints of their own construction
and as programs which can be modified as they learn important skills. The United Galactic Alliance (UGA) considers the
Ankaragi to have reached the status of 'living' because they have the ability to sustain themselves over generations without
any input from organic life-forms and they are able to change their forms, evolving and adapting as needed. The only
differences between organic life-forms, like human beings, and the Ankaragi are that they are composed of different
chemicals and that they did not spontaneously come into being in the sense that they were created by other beings. None of
these are considered significant enough to discount them from being classed as living - there are many life-forms that use
different chemical bases, even DNA is not universal (on Earth alone some viruses use RNA).
|Left: the Mechatronics 1000 series Destroyer Warbot in
its planet invader configuration. This Warbot was used
extensively by the old Federation. It came in two
size-types, the large Robotitan size (about 20 metres tall)
and the smaller 3 metre medium android size. Here it is
seen in its prototype colours, but in field operations its
reactive skin would change colour and pattern to match
The turret is equipped with broad-spectrum EM sensors
and two triple missile launchers. In the titan version these
would carry 3 metre surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs)
or surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) with 50 km range (in
Earth conditions) powered by antimatter plasma boosters
and carrying a variety of warheads (typically antimatter
armour-piercing or chemical gas warheads).
The chest hex-launcher would carry four 4m anti-armour
SAMs (200 km range) and two 2 m missiles. The smaller
missiles typically carried anti-personnel multiple
warheads with intelligent seeking capabilities.
Alternatively the hex-launcher could fire intelligent mines
which seek out and disperse to appropriate locations and
wait in ambush.
The limbs come in many interchangeable forms, but this
one is equipped with two double-beam directed energy
weapons. Typically phased-array phase-conjugate lasers
for use on planets with atmospheres, or sonic detonators
for clearing buildings and fortifications.
Various defensive systems would also be incorporated.
|These warbots were often used unscrupulously by the Federation in bringing unruly worlds to their knees. Some very
disturbing weaponry was sometimes used on these machines, including neutron warheads, and masers that cook living
things from the inside-out by making the water in their bodies boil! These robots are powered by anti-matter engines and
controlled by 112 processors with electron-spinor matrix cores (these rely on information stored as binary digits, or bits, in
the form of electron spin, up or down). They are not designated as living beings because they are not programed to evolve
and adapt but instead require other beings to design and construct them and so they cannot reproduce autonomously.
Warbots are especially interesting to the roboticist, because they have to overcome perhaps the greatest challenges of
design and performance!
The robot shown above is a Mechatronics 3000 series customised warbot. The 3000 series is more module, enabling parts
to be interchanged, so that different warbots can be assembled from kits in various configurations according to mission
requirements (this modular approach also means that parts are easier to salvage - a head or limb can be removed from a
damaged unit and transferred to another warbot and it makes it easier to update old technology with new modules). This
warbot is controlled by a dual quantum-biosynthetic processor. This involves a primary quantum processor coupled to a
biosynthetic neural net. This neural net is intended to give the warbot an imagination, which as in organic brains, confers a
degree of unpredictability. This makes it much harder for enemy computers to predict its actions. This warbot can also carry
various backpack and chest units. These include a quad-missile launcher backpack, capable of housing four 10 m missiles
with various warheads; and a maser-propelled micro-satellite launcher, which can launch small staellites (of which it can
carry up to 20) at ultrasonic velocities using a maser beam. These satellites can be used to seek and destroy targets in
space, or they may be modified as intelligent mines for use on the planetary surface. Seismic mines are able to drill beneath
the planet surface and then detonate, causing severe ground tremours that weaken buildings and other structures. Others
can be programmed to seek and destroy small ground targets.
This warbot is some 30 m tall. The drawback of such large size is that it forms a large target, which makes it harder to
conceal and easier to hit, especially on open planes. There are a number of solutions to this problem. This warbot has a
multi-laser turret for air-defense. A single laser generator can project up to 10 laser beams, one from each of the ten
nozzles, simultaneously. Some of these nozzles are equipped with their own optic sensor and they are mounted on a
rotating hemisphere (housing 4 nozzles at the top) and a rotating band (holding 6 nozzles in the middles section). This
allows rapid tracking, since this turret is used primarily to intercept incoming missiles, rocket barrages, and atmospheric
drones. No matter how large and thickly armoured you are, and no matter what your armour is made from, a large enough
warhead can cause serious, if not critical, damage in a single strike. The best defence is to avoid getting hit in the first
place! Some missiles carry such powerful warheads that even an indirect hit can cause massive multiple damage. Clearly,
the further away that these missiles can be intercepted the better!
Another danger facing large robots is a swarming attack by multiple ground targets - marines may climb onto its structure
and attempt to gain access through its armour or plant explosive devices. Smaller warbots and troopers may fire barrages
of small rockets or laser beams that can be very damaging en mass. One solution is to have similar units accompany the
robotitan, however, wherever possible these warbots are often designed to be self-sufficient and general-purpose (though a
group of them may be fitted so that each specialises in purpose). Basic defenses include smoke screens and electrifiable
skins, to deter troopers from getting too close. Other defenses include the atmospheric-defense turret, which can also direct
laser beams at a number of targets by its rapid rotation and targeting. Some warbots carry several smaller robots, either
inside or outside, which can clamber about like spiders with foot-suction, fending off any small attackers. Finally, of course,
the warbot can use its shear size - it can stomp, trample and club smaller opponents. To assist in this it must have good skin
sensors so that it can detect the presence of a smaller intruder climbing onto it. It is also possible to fit small anti-personnel
laser turrets or mortars at strategic intervals on its body. These turrets can be automated with their own processors. A
popular anti-personnel weapon is to fire large webs of sticky material to entangle enemy units.
We have already looked at some sophisticated defensive screens in the Cybex 7000 series warbot.
Missiles can possess the greater range in planetary atmospheres, since they can turn to accommodate the planet's
curvature. However, their shorter transit time makes directed beam energy weapons, such as lasers, the greater ranged
weapons in outer space. Some warbots are equipped with interceptor missiles for planet-planet interception of targets at
maximum range. The range of beam weapons can be increased by bouncing the beam off a high altitude reflector, such as
a purpose-made micro-satellite, allowing them to reach past the horizon where curvature of the planet's surface would
prevent a direct line of sight to a distant target. However, if the weapons are sufficiently powerful, then they are hard to
reflect, and such satellites may be disposable and only reflect a percentage of the beam energy. Clearly the ranges of
weapons will vary on planets with different atmospheres, curvature and gravity fields (figures quoted on this page assume
typical Earth-like planetary conditions).
Attached to this 3000 series' left arm is a quad-plasma cannon with a central beam laser weapon. The plasma cannon is
used to incinerate large areas, whilst the laser cannon can pierce armoured targets at large range, and can even hit
spaceships or satellites in low orbit.
Warbots need sophisticated sense data to detect, identify, track and lock potential targets. Visual and audio sensors are an
obvious choice. Visual sensors can tune into a large range of wavelengths, including infrared and ultraviolet, enabling
night-vision and the detection of targets using invisibility cloaks (which are transparent to some wavelengths more than
others) as well as for detection of heat signatures. These are typically mounted on the top turret to permit them to easily
scan 360 degrees. However, we always encounter constraints here. The 3000 series warbot shown above has its turret
primarily occupied by laser nozzles, which has compromised its ability to carry sensors here (there is only so much room for
things!). It does, however, have optical sensors (the smaller cylinders above some of the nozzles) which are able to
compensate for rapid movements. Very sensitive vibration sensors are included in its feet (these compensate for the
vibrations of the warbot's own walking/running, but are most sensitive when the warbot is at rest) and in its chest (the higher
sensors are mounted the further they can sense over intervening terrain, and placing them far apart helps direction-finding).
Another option is to use satellites or other units with more sophisticated sensors (as indeed do your Earthling air forces with
their specialised radar planes and ground-based radars) which does mean, however, that there is a possibility of an enemy
blocking communication links (a radar unit is of little use if it is unable to send data to other units on the battlefied!).
Primitive robots are controlled remotely, but modern warbots have intelligent processors enabling them to act independently.
Olfactory sensors are also important. This particular warbot is not well specialised for this, though its chest unit filters and
analyses the atmosphere. This literally enables warbots to smell enemy units from several km downwind, for example it is
often difficult to mask the odour emissions of high tech equipment on a primitive planet! Battle damage releases products of
burning that can be easily detected from afar, indeed, everything releases a characteristic odour!
If a robot such as the one above requires better sensors, then these can be fitted in a backpack with periscope antennas.
This allows a sensor to gain height above the landscape and easily scan through 360 degrees, by being mounted on an
aerial, which can also be withdrawn to protect the delicate senors during close combat. Such sensor modules can include
visual, olfactory, audio and radar sensors. It could also launch micro-satellites to scan the area and report back data.
Microbots with flight capability are good for this - a number of insect-sized robots can be issued forth to scan the
surrounding terrain and either transmit back or physically carry back their data to the warbot. These spy drones can be very
pesky for the enemy, since they need very sensitive sensor screens themselves to raise the alarm if they are being spied
upon! Indeed, they can make it almost impossible to approach within a kilometre of a warbot without it detecting you!
Stay tuned for updates as we aim to look at some alternative solutions to the problems facing warbots and other robots, in
the near future...