Matt and Chris wax on about the new budget deal and military benefits before finally discussing the incident between the Chinese and American navies, the Pacific balance, robotics, and books for the holidays. Remember to tell a friend and subscribe on Itunes or Stitcher Stream Radio. Leave a rating and a comment. Enjoy, Episode 13 of Sea Control, The Queen’s Shilling (download).
If you haven’t spent much time aboard a naval vessel, the Supply Department is the part of the ship charged with managing spare parts and ordering more. The Supply Department’s spaces also have a strange tendency to be the first fitted out with the nicest kit and upgrades. So it wouldn’t shock me to one day stroll in and find something like this:
A voice-activated storage unit with to help keep track of thousands of parts:
According to Danh Trinh, creator of the StorageBot:
The hardest parts to find were always those rare miscellaneous parts that were thrown somewhere into a “junk” bin. StorageBot solves the location problem by listening to my voice commands, processing the location of parts from a master database and then delivering the matching bins in a manner that only a robot can do!
Of course all the normal disclaimers bear stating: the system would need to be ruggedized, would likely have sea state restrictions, and each user would need to set up their voice recognition. Then again there’s the question of whether such a system would be worth it, or even practical. At a COTS or DIY price of roughly $700 (according to a PopSci.com article I can no longer access) the monetary burden doesn’t appear to high, and after all, Supply could never let one of the other shipboard “shops” get their hands on this tech first.
Our present-day pilotless platforms have been branded “drones” to their detriment. The word communicates a lack of adaptability or agency. For an increasingly automated fleet of machines, it denotes monotony and mindlessness: the droning of engines as a Predator lazily loops above the mountains, observing friend and foe alike. “Drone” is inappropriate for an ever-expanding suite of devices with greater close-in roles in combat. An AlphaDog, an EOD bomb-disposal bot, the DARPA Crusher, and the Battlefield Extraction Assistance Robot (BEAR) are not “drones.” To better describe our new combat compatriots and better comprehend their multitudinous uses and designs, let us properly christen our autonomous allies.
ComBot is the accurate alternative to “drone.” An obvious combination of Combat and Robot, it describes our soon-to-be automated assault associates in an easy-to-digest term. The name has a practicality lacking in most military monikers. It is not a shoe-horned acronym such as Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) pronounced “see-wiz” rather than “ki-wis” or “cue-z”. What layman would ever think of a high-tech Gatling-gun when they hear “CIWS”, or a pilotless aircraft when they hear “UAV”? However, the wordplay of ComBot makes the backing concept immediately recognizable. A rose by any other name may be just as sweet, but people abandoned the term horseless carriage for a reason; let’s update our language to match the concept.
Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.