Thursday, August 02, 2007

My best friend, the ghost in the machine.


Is it a ghost in the machine or my best friend, Dave?

The Washington post has a good piece up about the human connection with military robots - worth the read if you design anything.

This has to be my favourite part:

When Greg Harbin was piloting one of the first Predators over Bosnia from his desk in Hungary, he wasn't actively trying to become the first UAV operator in history to be awarded a medal. He was trying to avoid becoming the first UAV pilot to incinerate a schoolyard full of children.

The then-32-year-old Air Force captain's bot was "dead square right over the city" of Mostar, looking for snipers, when its engine conked out. As it spiraled down, still carrying 2,000 gallons of fuel, Harbin could see on his screen, through the cross hairs of the nose camera, that "it was dead-centered on that school. If I'd allowed that thing to hit into that school, could you imagine?" he recalls. "I would be the first guy in the history of the world to kill somebody with an unmanned aircraft."

Using the kind of fancy flying he'd learned as a fighter pilot, and only the 15 minutes' worth of battery power he had left, he miraculously pulled the bot out of its spiral and found an airstrip run by the French. To make sure the barely-under-control bot didn't hit all their transport planes, he intentionally crash-landed it on their runway. "The French were pretty funny on the radio. They didn't know what it was. They videotaped the whole thing."

But that's not the significant part.

As he was struggling to bring the bot down without an engine, he could see "the ground coming real fast." He dropped the landing gear, flared the wings, pushed the stick forward and then started fumbling around at the bottom of his desk chair.

He had bonded so tightly with the machine hundreds of miles away that he was searching for the lever that would allow him to eject.



It reminds me very much of a story by Colin Kapp: Gottlos. Worth the read if you can find it...
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