How big is a “robot”? Does size really matter in classifying something as a robot, or can it be truely humongous and still qualify? Suppose it was big, really big, like about 18,000 pounds – still a robot? What if it could fly, drop bombs, and operate autonomously. . . ?
Sound like the science fiction movie you took in at the local cineplex last Saturday night? It’s not science fiction at all. The Boeing X-45C, when it does it’s first test flight next year in St. Louis, will be as big as an F-16 and will be capable of flying close to the speed of sound.
The X-45C is more than a pilotless drone. It will have a ‘pilot’ on the ground, but the pilot could be miles, or even thousands of miles away. More important, the ‘pilot’ won’t be flying the X-45C by moving a remote control stick. The X-45C is designed to fly and make critical decisions autonomously – on its own.
Other unmanned aircraft, like the Predator surveillance drone that saw field use in Afghanistan and Iraq, were piloted remotely. In contrast, the X-45C has been designed as a ‘hunter’ from the ground up. And the concept has already been proven.
Last August, two X-45A flew on their own, used their onboard computers and software to figure out routes through a 30 by 60 mile battlefield, then successfully performed simulated attacks on ground equipment and missle launchers.
Look again – there’s no cockpit because the X-45C doesn’t need one.
The X-45C will have a 49 foot wingspan and be 36 feet long. It will be able to fly at 40,000 feet and attain speeds of up to Mach .85. It has an operational combat radius of around 1,200 nautical miles – but the ‘pilot’ that’s feeding it commands could be sitting on the other side of the world in an air conditioned office watching their computer display.
The development plan for the X-45C calls for it to be capable of completely autonomous flight. So, what does the ‘pilot’ on the ground get to do? According to Boeing, when it comes time to drop the bombs, the X-45C will need authorization from the ‘pilot’.
It is a ‘robot’? A robot is often considered to be “. . . a machine that can automatically do tasks normally controlled by humans and mostly is used to perform repetitive tasks . . .” or tasks that humans don’t like to do – like going out and bombing other humans.
X-45C sure sounds like one enormous flying, all seeing, death dealing robot to us. What do you think?