Yes to Robotics! No to Killer Robots!

Most TED talks if not all are thought provoking. The one given by moral philosopher Peter Singer on effective altruism (see Video 1) at TED 2013 Longbeach (CA) is no exception. This talk is actually a call for action. We don’t need to be billionaires to help others around the world. We can either offer part of our time or our money. However, this emotion-driven reaction can be leveraged by using our brains to figure out the most effective way to use resources we have at hand.

What’s the connection with robotics? The answer to this question lies in another question: What can roboticists, do to change the world for the better? As a matter of fact, there are already people that use robots in projects that positively impacts our society or our planet.

Video 1: Peter Singer TED talk: The why and how of effective altruism

Some use robots to fight the global warming. Those are oceanologists and climatologists that collect data (temperature, acidity…) of the oceans using swarms of robots. Land mine detection and clearing is another robotic application that is important not only to the military, but also for humanitarian purpose. Anti-personnel landmines remain hidden in the ground long after wars are over, injuring or killing thousands of people every year. Our friends from the Robots podcast had recorded in 2011 an episode on this topic. It featured a discussion on demining robots, used in the field, such as the one of Video 2.

Video 2: Demining Robot

Providing some level of autonomy to disabled people is yet another worthy application of robotics. With the advances in brain interfaces, we have seen in the past year experiments where paraplegic people control robotic arms (see Video 3). Other projects aim at building robotic limbs for amputees. An impressive example is the Deka arm (aka Luke’s arm). Although it’s funded by the military, the product is for civil applications.

Video 3: Paraplegic woman controlling a robotic arm

Yet another interesting use of robots is rescue operations. Dr. Robin Murphy from Texas A&M University is a pioneer in this field. She had founded the “Roboticists Without Borders” action to deploy robots after disasters. There are other folks also targeting the same problem. They compare to each other in events such as the robocup rescue which 2013 edition will take place next july in the Netherlands.

Using robots for the best is great. But, preventing their use for the worse is equally important. This is the case of the campaign against killer robots. And for this, no need to do a lot of research or development to be effective. All you have to do is to simply join the movement. Our friends form Cause Ribbon provided us with yet another simple way to act: a “Stop Killer Robots” ribbon to display on your web page.

We are pretty sure that all what we have listed above is just the tip of the iceberg. Please share with us your actions and ideas to make the future bright using robotics and avoid a technological dystopia.


  • A humanitarian use of drones: build a high resolution 3D map (5-10 centimeters per pixel) of Haiti to help deliver goods and services of first necessity such as food, water, medicine. The map covering 45 square kilometers took only 6 days to build.

  • Another interesting application of drones is agriculture. As explained by Chris Anderson from 3D Robotics in the video below, drones can be used by farmers to dramatically reduce the use of pesticides by scanning the crop daily. Insects or other organisms harmful to cultivated plants can then be detected at early infection stage and destroyed in spot.


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