From the "One Step Closer to Transformers" file, the National Nuclear Security Administration has announced that is now using robots to patrol a Nevada test base. While that may conjure images of Terminator-like, gun-toting cyborgs, the reality is that the robots are buggy-like vehicles with cameras and sensors mounted on their roofs.
The Mobile Detection Assessment Response Systems is autonomous and can conduct random patrols around the 1,360-square-mile Nevada National Security Site, which is about 65 miles from Las Vegas. The trio of robots can go up to 20 miles an hour and can keep track of facilities through radio frequency identification tags, so they can tell if a fence or lock has been tampered with.
The only time a human operator needs to come into play is if the robot encounters a situation, such as a faulty gate or intruder. Human operators can then take over control of the robot, and they can interact with people through its microphones and speakers. Alas, the MDAS doesn't appear to have any weapons (lethal or non-lethal), so it seems like the only thing the operator will be able to do is yell at unauthorized intruders.
Here's a video of the robot in action:
The NNSA said it built the robots along with the Office of Health, Safety and Security with spare parts acquired from the Army, but it did not say what they cost. Officials did say the robots will save the department about $6 million in infrastructure costs, which come from having to maintain watch towers, lights, motion detection and all the other stuff.
The robots reminded me a little bit of a trip I took out to Area 51 a few years back. The famous base, long rumoured to house a crashed alien UFO, attracts tons of like-minded visitors every year, who are allowed to drive up the base's road - to a certain point. That point is marked by a number of signs that strongly discourage anyone from going any further.
Moreover, I remember seeing a pickup truck parked on a distant hill, with a lone figure inside keeping watch. The truck was too far away to discern if the person inside was actually real, so I've always wondered if it was just a lifeless dummy put there to further scare people. Could it have been a robot all along?