Remember those gun-toting robots that were being pulled out of Iraq because they were moving when they weren't commanded? Well, according to their manufacturer it's all "an urban legend" — the SWORD robot is not going to spin around and point its gun at friendlies... it's fine'n'dandy and still deployed in the field. Phew. Looks like our soldiers are safe from a robot uprising for now. But where did the original story come from? UPDATED
Popular Mechanics originally reported that "SWORDS was yanked because it made people nervous" based partly on a conversation with Army spokesman Kevin Fahey. He was talking about instances where SWORDS robots had swung around without being commanded to do so: "the gun started moving when it was not intended to move," and that's potentially dangerous when it's operating and friendly soldiers are nearby.
But Cynthia Black, a spokesperson for the robot-makers Foster Miller, points out that there have only actually been three "uncommanded movement" incidents. One involving a loose wire, one a broken solder joint and one where a burnt-out motor caused a robot to slide backwards down a hill. Both the wiring fault and soldering error have been fixed, by double-soldering and redundant circuits, and there's nothing much anyone could do about the third problem. All three events were prior to its safety certification.
Sound a bit dubious, since it's their robot they're trying to defend? Well, even Kevin Fahey himself, in a email to Danger Room now says "SWORD is still deployed" and that the Army is going to expand the use of robots like it.
There's one more fact that squashes the "Terminator" label the robots have been given: they can't fire their weapon without direct orders. And it would take a heck of a sequence of malfunctions for it to point the wrong way and fire at our own guys all by itself. Thank goodness they didn't build AI into them, hey? [Danger Room]
Update: Popular Mechanics has a new article online that sets the record straight. Basically, as we report here, the robots are working well, are still deployed in Iraq, and pose no safety threat to their operators. And there are only three deployed in any case. Read it here.