U.N. report points out new robo-possibilities
GENEVA, Oct. 31 — Robots, already used in record numbers in industry across
the world, could be employed more widely in the fight against terrorism, a
U.N. expert said Wednesday.
MOBILE BOMB-FIGHTING robots can already inspect suspicious cars, buildings or
mail for explosives or hazardous materials, according to Jan Karlsson, an
expert at the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe.
But the airliner hijacking attacks on the World Trade Center in New
York and the Pentagon near Washington on Sept. 11, which killed about 4,800
people, along with anthrax cases among postal workers, exposed security gaps
which robots could fill.
“It is quite clear that it would have been an expanding area even
without Sept. 11. Everything to do with inspection, surveillance and handling
substances in environments hostile for human beings is expanding, not just for
anti-terrorism but for maintenance purposes,” Karlsson told Reuters.
The Geneva-based commission, in its annual study of the industry issued
Wednesday and titled “World Robotics 2001,” said a record 100,000 robots were
installed last year, up 25 percent on 1999.
At least 750,000 robot units now work worldwide in sectors ranging
from the car industry to farming and health care.
“There is definitely a much higher incentive to invest in automated
technology to fight terrorists,” Karlsson said. “It could be used in post
offices, in surveillance of offices after hours and to inspect suspicious
The U.S. Postal Service — whose postmaster told a Senate panel Tuesday
that the financial impact of the anthrax crisis could be several billion
dollars — uses robots to sort parcels, but other automated equipment sorts
letters, according to Karlsson.
BETTER AND CHEAPER
Karlsson told a news briefing: “Robots are getting cheaper and
cheaper and better and better. At the same time, labor costs are more and
“For industrial robots, 2000 was the best year ever,” added the Swede.
“Not only in Japan and Europe and North America, but they have also started to
take off in some developing countries, for example in Brazil, Mexico, China
and South Africa.”
Annual sales of robot units are estimated at $5 billion to $6 billion,
Karlsson said. But with the cost of installing necessary software and
integration systems, the total robotics market could be worth closer to $25
billion, he said.
About 50 systems of firefighting and bomb-disposal robots have been
sold through 2000 in countries including Israel and Britain, according to
The study, written before the devastating U.S. attacks, predicts sales
of 120 systems by 2004.
About 2,300 robots work in demolition, servicing or dismantling
nuclear, chemical, waste or other hazardous complexes, the report said.
Another 60 robots work in surveillance.
“Guard robots are used privately and professionally to detect intruders
or fire,” Karlsson said.
“The Pentagon have several, and they are used in nuclear plants in the
United States and Europe, but the market is still rather marginal,” he said.
--- --- --- --- ---
Useless hypotheses, etc.:
consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
analog computing, cultural relativism, GAC, Cyc, Eliza, cryonics, individual
uniqueness, ego, human values, scientific relinquishment, malevolent AI
We move into a better future in proportion as science displaces superstition.
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