Military robots, looking beyond defence, and meeting the skills gap

News editor

Military robots may conjure images of Terminator-style machines running roughshod over humanity but robots have been serving with distinction for a number of years.

To paraphrase Major Kenneth Rose of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, machines don’t hide from bad weather, aren’t distracted by their comrades and they are fearless.

A conference taking place today and tomorrow will look in depth at robotics and increasing demands for this sector to serve military purposes.

Organised by SMi Group, Military Robotics 2012 will draw on case studies of current systems in military operations, assess the emerging global market in terms of procurement of Unmanned and Autonomous Vehicles, and look at R&D programs making future integration a possibility.

SMi add that the conference ‘will also seek to encourage discussion on the issues of building a fleet of armed robots and utilizing them for fighting an ‘Unmanned War’ as well as the ethical issues of artificial intelligence.’

Major Rose noted that ‘machines don’t get tired’, which maybe isn’t so true given that power sources run down. An intriguing solution to this conundrum is being worked on at Bristol Robotics Laboratory, where they are developing a robot that uses microbial fuel cells as the power source. More on this can be found here.

Similarly, whilst Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are not new, and their use in theatre well documented, their ability to share airspace with manned aircraft has remained a potent topic of debate. Click here to recap on The Engineer’s roundtable discussion on the development of civilian UAVs.

Always first to the news that matters, The Engineer ran an item in October describing how large defence contractors are looking to grow in non-core markets.

In the article, Stephen Harris noted that five of the world’s biggest aerospace and defence firms – Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Saab, Finmeccanica and Northrop Grumman – have signalled their intention to move further into the environmental and energy technology sectors.

The story preceded the E3DS Summit,an event taking place over two days this week in London that will discuss ‘the cross-section between energy, environment, economics, defence, and security.’

With US and western European defence budgets contracting by over 10 per cent in the last two years, the event will look at new opportunities in adjacent markets that include environmental protection, clean energy, smart grids, and humanitarian relief.

Organised by IHS, the summit will ‘develop the claim that the ADS industry is…uniquely positioned to address these and other far-reaching global challenges.’

Later on today Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, will deliver a lecture entitled Education & Business: Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage (You can’t have one without the other).

The Council for Industry and Higher Education’s (CIHE) Annual Lecture will see Sir Martin outline the increasing role of the BRICs markets competing for talent and the urgent need for better collaboration between employers and the UK’s higher education institutions to lift low growth Britain.

At a different end of the scale, EEF and JAM Recruitment have issued results of a survey which found a large number of manufacturers predicting their skills requirements to go up in the next three years.

Consequently, Britain’s manufacturers are increasing their investment in skills in response to greater demand for more highly skilled employees, with 68 per cent of respondents saying they are offering apprenticeships schemes for up to four years.

Worryingly, job applicants are identified as ‘increasingly lacking technical skills, work experience and relevant qualifications’, a situation being mitigated by employers increasing investment in training, apprenticeships and developing better links with schools and FE colleges.

A full appraisal of the report can be found here.