Here's a bit of a break from the whack you in the face gloom of the last couple of posts.
The idea behind this post? One of the best ways to avoid some of the bad futures drones could enable would be to democratize the knowledge for building them.
About a decade ago, there was an interesting game show on Comedy Central called Battlebots. It featured fights between robots (with Bill Nye as the technical expert). It was an early form of a now successful genre: NerdTV.
First, some background. Here's more detail on the rules/classes:
- Lightweight – 60 pounds (27 kilograms)
- Middleweight – 120 pounds (54 kilograms)
- Heavyweight – 220 pounds (100 kilograms)
- Superheavyweight – 340 pounds (154 kilograms)
'Walking' robots ('StompBots') propelled by means other than wheels were initially given a 50% weight bonus. The rules changed following the victory of a heavyweight StompBot (Son of Whyachi) at BattleBots 3.0. For BattleBots 4.0 and beyond only a 20% weight bonus was given to walkers and the technical rules specified that walking mechanisms not use cam operated walking mechanisms as they were functionally too similar to wheel operation. Since the rules change, walking robots have entered the competition, but none have achieved any success beyond preliminary rounds.
Here's a clip (there are lots of these fights archived on YouTube) of two contenders:
The fights on BattleBots (and the UK's Robot Wars) had the feel of the types of competitions you find in college engineering schools (with a little wrestling schtick thrown in). An engineering task is set. Two teams of engineering students build a contraption to accomplish the task. The proving ground is chosen. The teams battle for the best grade. In the case of this show, the victor was the only bot still operation at the end of the time period (if both are, the victory is awarded on points).
What if there was an updated version of BattleBots called "BattleSwarms." It wouldn't be a simple head to a head competition, but something that combined serious engineering prowess and combat.
- Competition. Leveraging the success of engineering competitions like the X-Prize (which led to a private space industry) and the DARPA Grand Challenge which led to autonomous, self-navigating vehicles (and armored supply carriers for warfare).
- Controlled combat. Prototypes locked into a life or death struggle. Perfect for NerdTV.
- Open source innovation. All of the designs and prototypes details are shared after each major competition. This in turn leads to thousands of new applications and much faster rates of innovation.
Of course. You can always find me on Twitter for more commentary.