Image ID: Tweet thread from Dr Sarah Taber reads: PSA for anyone who might be dealing with robot gun dogs, from a farm robot specialist who wasn’t really looking at robot wrangling from the public safety standpoint but here we are.
I haven’t worked w police/military robotics so I can’t speak to exactly how these are built. But I can tell you, IME roboticists can be really naive about environmental conditions: making robots sturdy enough to handle rain, dirt, & other outdoor realities.
For example! I’ve worked w a couple startups that do fruit picking robots. They build the thing, *then* call me in to figure out how to clean it. And half the time you can’t. Bc the picking arm has all these delicate cameras & servos that can’t get wet.
Folks who build robots at this time tend to be focused on making it do cool things like see, jump, run, & somersault. So they can release teaser videos that make everybody go “wow what a fancy robot” They tend to be less focused on actual service performance: DURABILITY.
What’s this mean? The joints, motors, cameras, & other sensors are more exposed than they should be. It’s easy for water, road salt, grit, etc to get in there and cripple the robot.
I mean look at this thing. That housing’s got more nooks & crannies than a dang English muffin. You think that’s watertight?
For robots that work outside, not even watertight is good enough. Farms add surfactants (like dish soap) to sprays. They make the sprays stick to leaves & get into all the nooks & crannies of the plant. So farm robots need surfactant-proof seals. Not just waterproof.
Otherwise after a few hours in the field, you have a mix of dew, mud, soil & grit, and whatever surfactants you put in your last pesticide mixing together & working their way into all the robot’s delicate parts. Scratching up the cameras. Jamming up the joints & motor.
If there’s any salt or acid in the mix, it’s even worse! Some soils have a lil salt in them, or an acidic pH. It’s actually pretty common! The salts or H+ ions work their way into the machine & corrode the shit out of EVERYTHING. Bye-bye expensive farm robot!
Now let’s apply this to street settings. Water. Dirt & grit. Road salt. Just a little salt destroys metal! Even faster if it’s mixed with water, acids, surfactants, &/or grit.
And again, dirt & grit destroy joints. They scratch up camera lenses & otherwise interfere with sensors. They also scratch up any corrosion-proof coatings the engineers may have put on there, & expose the metals to water, salt, & acid.
These robots look super-vulnerable to normal wear & tear. They look even more vulnerable to a super-soaker filled with common household items like salt, vinegar, & just a lil dish soap. Maybe with a lil diatomaceous earth to bump up the scrubbing power.
If they don’t go belly-up from short circuits immediately, they’re still looking at either an expensive tear-town, clean, & rebuild (takes the robot off the street for a few days) or it’ll go belly-up within a week or two. Both options are REALLY expensive & frustrating for own
Especially if they get hit with water/salt/acid/grit/soaps ASAP the moment they hit the street again. Then the robots wind up spending more time in the shop on life support than actually doing their job.
That’s actually a pretty common outcome for automation! Everyone gets excited about this fancy new machine that’s going to replace people. Then in real life it turns out to be broken all the time, can’t do shit, it’s a giant money pit, & eventually the sponsors give up.
idk just some thoughts on outdoor automation from someone who buries the corpses of failed robots for a living
it’s just really funny to me that these are supposed to be scary but probably can’t stand up to a water balloon full of pickle juice