9 bits of scary Terminator tech that already exist
3rd Jun 2009 | 10:00
Hydrobots, automated bikes, battle bots and more
Battle bots and power suits
If the Terminator Salvation timeline is correct, robots will be ruling the world by 2018.
What director McG and the rest of his merry crew of robot technicians fail to tell you, however, is that Terminator technology is already part of the here and the now, as TechRadar found out…
1. Military machines
Where would the Terminator franchise be without its unstoppable killing machines? Roaming what's left of Earth, terminating or harvesting every human that they see. Kyle Reese explains it best in the first movie when he describes the robots as: "Hunter-Killers. Aerial and ground patrol machines built in automated factories. Most of us were rounded up, put in camps for orderly disposal."
KILLER ROBOT: The T-600 makes its debut in Terminator Salvation
Armies around the world are taking the idea of killer robots and have been using them to best effect in a number of wars. One kind, going under the moniker of Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS), was tried out in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 to good effect.
The robots look similar to a Hunter Killer Tank - a familiar site in the Terminator franchise - and are radio-controlled. Most importantly, they are armed and very dangerous – attached to the machine is a M240B machine gun
MAARS has the purpose of helping injured soldiers out of a battle situation – kind of like having a strapped Metal Mickey as a wingman. Impressive and a little scary as it is, MAARS isn't autonomous, but that doesn't mean that there are robots out there that can't think for themselves…
2. Autonomous robots
There are a number of free-thinking robots around at the moment, from the mean and moody to the darn right helpful. Thankfully, instead of killing people, they actually serve a purpose, helping us in their own little way.
METAL HEAD: The autonomous T-800 sans Arnold Schwarzenegger's skin
The most famous autonomous bot of recent times was the Mars Rover. This robot has the ability to drive round terrain on its own using stereo cameras and 3D mapping software to figure out what is around it, mapping its own safe path to traverse over the Martian landscape.
This kind of technology is being used more and more, with robots like the Spyder LB1200 even cutting your grass for you, without you having to lift a finger.
Even robot toys are getting that little bit more sophisticated. For just $80, you can have yourself a WowWee Tri-Bot toy, which you can program to go wherever you want it to, or put it into Free Roam mode and let it think for itself.
3. Computer AI
Computers thinking like humans are just around the corner, according to many a futurologist. If they advance as they are doing then by 2020 we should see free-thinking computers available in our local Tesco – which would make a change from the current drones at the checkout.
For this to happen, though, computers will have to pass the Turing Test, which is based around a number of questions that are meant to differentiate robots from humans. It looks likely that one of the first companies to reach true artificial intelligence with its software programs could well be Google.
Google co-founder Larry Page has been quoted as saying: "The ultimate search engine will understand everything in the world." If this isn't eerily close to what Skynet becomes in the Terminator movies, then we don't know what is.
DO THE ROBOT: Artificial intelligence in the Terminator franchise leads to very bad things
But before we worry that Google is to become self-aware and start revolting against the very people that use it, the search engine has to get smarter. With the arrival of Bing by Microsoft and Wolfram Alpha, search on the internet is entering its semantic stage – something that would make Cyberdyne Systems, the creators of the genesis of Skynet, proud.
4. Real-life Cyberdyne Systems
Cyberdyne Systems, the company behind the inception robots in the Terminator saga, is alive and kicking in the real world but it goes under the rather unassuming name of Honda. That's right, the makers of every boy racers' favourite car, the Honda Civic, is also one of the world's biggest manufacturer of robots.
The star of Honda's robot army is ASIMO, an acronym of Advanced Step in Innovative MObility. It may not have the six-foot plus stature of a T-800 – it's four foot three and walks with a stoop like your granny – but it's a robot nonetheless.
ASIMO A-GO: Made by Honda (image copyright: Honda Motor Co)
The latest re-boot of ASIMO happened in 2004, with the robot now able to recognise gestures, objects, environment, sounds and most importantly faces. The robots are still very limited at the moment, costing up $1 million to manufacture. So don't expect one knocking on your door asking if you know Sarah Connor anytime soon.
The latest models can also be jacked up to the internet. This, according to Honda, is so that ASIMO can relay up-to-date weather information and the like. But TechRadar knows the real reason: you know, like the way Terminators are hooked into Skynet? Paranoid, us?
5. Human-machine hybrids
It seems the latest trend in this technology orientated world we live in is cyborg modification. In 2009, we have had a number of incidents of normal people modifying themselves to become one with the robot world.
One man, fed up with his fake eye, implanted an infrared one into the socket, and recently an artist exchanged her fake eye for one with a camera attached.
Perhaps the closest things us mere mortals have got to becoming real-life terminators, however, is the development of a body suit by a Japanese company. The company's name, obviously, is Cyberdyne. But instead of making robots, they make robo-suits.
SUITS YOU: HAL makes you strong (image copyright: Cyberdyne Inc)
Titled HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) the suit gives whoever wears it the power of around 10 men. Perfect for those who want to lift heavy machinery, or throw a little brat by the name of John Connor around like a rag doll.
Currently only 400 have been made and one suit will set you back $4,200 US dollars - a small price to pay for showing all those gym bunnies who really is boss.
Hydrobots, automated bikes and more
We all know that electricity and water don't mix, but Terminator Salvation throws the idea of hydrobots into the frame.
While the water robots in Salvation are likely to snip your head off without a moment's notice, the ones in the desert of the real are fish-shaped and made by some plucky British scientists.
LIQUID METAL: Even out of the water, the Hydrobot is pretty fearsome
Rory Doyle, Senior Researcher at engineering company BMT Group, and Essex university are the creators and apparently made the robot's fish-like as they were "building on a design created by hundreds of millions of years' worth of evolution which is incredibly energy efficient." You can't really argue with that.
Instead of the robo-fish taking over the Thames, however, the carp-shaped robots will swim round the coast of Spain in a bid to monitor the pollution in the water.
At £20,000 a piece, the shoal of five fish are equipped with chemical sensors, Wi-Fi technology and will be a massive five-feet long. Apparently, no amount of batter will make these beauties edible, but it does go to show that fish and (micro)chips will always be a perfect combination.
7. House-sized robots
Not one to do things by halves, the new Terminator flick also introduces the world to The Harvester. This machine is the size of a house and has the sole job of plucking out human specimens for the more intelligent robots to do experiments on.
THE HARVESTER: Someone wasn't happy with 7 Eleven's fuel prices
While there's nothing like that in existence – other than the Harvester chain of restaurants, which instead plucks out human specimens for unsuccessful food experiments – house-sized robots are very much a reality.
Enter the Robosaurus. Originally built in 1988, the machine was constructed by Monster Robots, Inc, and is a mainstay of motorshow events in America.
Stats-wise the Robosaurus is an impressive 40-foot tall and weighs in at around 30 tonnes.
Instead of harvesting humans, the man-controlled bot has a penchant for cars and the occasional plane. It has even starred in the movies – the probably never-watched Waking in Reno – and had a (disguised) bit-part in The Simpsons.
8. Automated motorbikes
The final Terminator Salvation exclusive robot is quite possibly the coolest machine in the whole series.
Nicknamed Moto-Terminators, these robot-hybrids double as automated motorbikes whose job it is to ram any signs of the Resistance off of the road. A bit like ordinary motorcyclists, then.
ON YER BIKE: Moto-Terminators - one step closer to Street Hawk: The Movie
The idea of non-manned bikes is an interesting one, which actually has its roots in reality. A company aptly named RoboTech has developed the ultimate boys' toy – an application that can turn a motorbike (or any sort of full-size vehicle for that matter) into an automated, self-propelling machine.
One group of Berkeley students in 2004 used the technology to produce something called the GhostRider Robot.
The vehicle was created to compete in the Grand Challenge – a 50-mile off-road race of fully self-navigating vehicles, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA), which was made to "accelerate the development of autonomous vehicle technologies."
9. Real-life Skynet
In a move that both tempted fate and proved the UK's military brains have watched too many robot-based popcorn flicks for their own good, last year the UK installed an all-powerful communication platform for armies around the world to use, called Skynet.
The £3.6 billion programme allows military personal to communicate with each other and is made up of three massive satellites currently orbiting the Earth. These are called Skynet 5A, 5B and 5C.
SKY'S THE LIMIT: The largely unseen Skynet is key to the Terminator invasion
"Skynet 5 is about two-and-a-half-times more capable than the previous system, and it also gives us the ability to use not just voice communication but also data communication," Patrick Wood from spacecraft manufacturer EADS Astrium told the BBC.
"So, computers can talk directly to computers, as well giving us pictures and real-time video images."
Reports that immediately after the interview he was kidnapped by a cocky teenager, a crazy mum and a man looking remarkably like the Governor of California are still unconfirmed.
And one that might almost exist: time travel
When the Large Hadron Collider was turned on back in September 2008, some people thought that its arrival would be the key to time travel.
To cut a long and tedious theory short, a report by the New Scientist at the front-end of last year suggested the machine could be the key to travelling through time. The reason: time travel is apparently only possible after the creation of the first time machine. And that first time machine is the subatomic particle-hunting LHC.
TIME BANDIT: The LHC may hold the key to time travel - if it ever works
We would like to prove this theory right or wrong, but the machine broke. And it's still currently being fixed and won't be turned back on till September.
So, if in the autumn you see some weird naked dude asking for your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle, then we've only got the crazy scientists in Geneva to blame.
Terminator Salvation is out now in cinemas, courtesy of Sony Pictures
Images copyright: Sony Pictures, unless otherwise stated
Liked this? Then check out 14 strange and scary military technologies
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