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Terrorist robots dissected - anatomy of a scare

DIY cruise missiles - not as easy as you think

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Analysis There's a fresh flurry of robot-terrorist headlines on the wires, following an autonomous-weapons conference held on Wednesday at a military thinktank in London.

The assembled military and academic bigwigs gathered in Whitehall were mainly thinking about the ethics of killer robot use by Western forces, but there was only one thing the media were interested in - terrorist robots, probably flying ones.

AP quoted Rear Admiral Chris Parry of the Royal Navy as saying: "Sooner or later we're going to see a Cessna programmed to fly into a building," and suggesting that remote-controlled aircraft - perhaps converted from toys - were "ideal [terror] weapons... They are cheap ... and they're difficult to detect — about as difficult to detect as a blackbird".

Admiral Parry is already mildly famous for predicting a Roman-empire style collapse of Western European civilisation, caused by Goth-like waves of migrants who fail to assimilate and remain connected to their home cultures by the internet and cheap flights. (We still think he was referring to Australians, Kiwis, South Africans and so on.)

The good admiral also presided over a MoD crystal-ball report last year, which seemed to predict a global middleclass rebellion against a power structure dominated by the super-rich. The admiral and his fellow report drafters seemed to suggest that this rebellion might make use of flashmob riots, electropulse blasters, or even brain chipping.

They also hinted that: "A cheap, simple-to-make and easy-to-use weapon might be invented that is effective against a wide range of targets."

Now Admiral Parry reckons he's found that weapon. He's not alone, in fact; various people have been warning about the possibility of terrorist or other bad hats building themselves a DIY cruise missile for some time now.

In fact, the thinktank discussion assumed as much (Word doc) to begin with:

"With small or mini Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) available for as little as USD$1000, the advantages of autonomous vehicles could easily be harnessed by militias, criminals and terrorist groups..."

Indeed, robopocalypse prof Noel Sharkey reckons he could do better, and build you a flying deathbot for just £250.

Is it goer? Well, sort of. Civil GPS is now cheap and easy, so your autonomous system can certainly guide itself to a known target location - let's say No 10 Downing Street. GPS is completely passive, which is nice as it means our homemade cruise missile won't be entirely simple to detect or meddle with electronically.

However, a £250 to £500 UAV - while it can surely fly a GPS waypoint track - can't lift any significant warhead. You could use it for spying or something, though anyone with a shotgun will be able to shoot it down if you get too close. This is not a killer robot.

But let's assume a bit more funding, just to be sporting.

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