2128: New Robot
Title text: "Some worry that we'll soon have a surplus of search and rescue robots, compared to the number of actual people in situations requiring search and rescue. That's where our other robot project comes in..."
The comic is a commentary on how many robots and engineering products are labeled as being for “Search and Rescue” purposes.
Search And Rescue (SAR) involves entering an unknown, possibly hazardous disaster-stricken environment, identifying humans or other items of interest which may be hidden, partly (or completely) buried, or injured, and then figuring out how to safely extract the target and deliver it to safety. These tasks are hard enough for humans and are even more challenging for robots, which generally work better in well-controlled situations. This is why many robot challenges are themed around search-and-rescue; the techniques that are developed for handling such challenging circumstances can be applied to make other robots (such as robotic caretakers, autonomous cars, AI-assisted medicine, and other lucrative applications) more robust.
The comic may be remarking that 'search and rescue' may be used as a cover for developing robots that will actually be tasked to 'search and destroy'. (See: lethal autonomous weapons.) Although search-and-rescue is a function that militaries perform, a robot that can satisfactorily perform a search-and-rescue task can easily be adapted to more destructive purposes. Randall has previously written about his concerns about human authorities misusing military robots in 1968: Robot Future.
The joke is that the group of engineers who built the robot did it just because it would be cool to have a robot that can induce lightning strikes and has a grappling gun like the hook shot from (The Legend Of) Zelda. Realizing that they need to have an actual purpose for the robot the engineer presenting the robot makes up the reason that it could be used for search and rescue operations. The grappling gun can be used to pull people out or supply food to people stuck in a place. In the case that there is a dangerous amount of charge present in the atmosphere lightning can be induced which will protect other objects and people from lightning. Also, the helium sphere can allow the balloon to float in places that are hard to reach. (Another possible interpretation is that the question "What is the robot for?" meant why do the helium sphere and grappling gun need to have a robot — and the answer means that the robot is to rescue those who are hit by either the lighting or the grappling gun.)
The Hookshot is a type of grappling hook that is a recurring piece of equipment in The Legend of Zelda video game franchise, first appearing in the 1991 game The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It is a machine consisting of a chain and hook, which can be used by Link, the protagonist and player character of Zelda. When used, the chain extends and sends the hook attached to it towards its target. If the hook latches onto certain objects, Link reels himself in towards that object. Link can also use it to pull enemies and objects towards him. Although it is referred to by the traditional 'Hookshot' name, the traditional Hookshot involves a bladed tip that mounts in wood; the grappling gun equipped on the robot is more reminiscent of the later Clawshot, which grasps its target on contact.
In theory, the Hookshot-esque function of the robot could be used for anchoring purposes - a useful function for a flying robot in search-and-rescue situations. If it is using a Clawshot design, it could also conceivably seize the parties in need of rescue. However, merely by comparing the grappling device to the Hookshot, it is clear that its attachment was specifically designed in an effort to replicate the game's tool.
The title text ominously suggests that since there are more rescue robots than required for the number of people needing rescue, another robot project will be used to place people in need of rescue, or destroy search-and-rescue robots. (Even more ominously, it is possible that this may be the project that creates a need for rescue, as the fires caused by the lightning strikes could be the disaster from which rescue is needed.)
- [Ponytail is standing on a raised platform with a robot behind her, talking to someone off-screen. The spherical floating robot is equipped with a grappling gun and an antenna that "zaps" a lightning bolt at the floor below it.]
- Robot: ZAP
- Ponytail: Our robot floats using a helium sphere, which is highly charged and can induce lightning strikes.
- Ponytail: It moves using a grappling gun like the hook shot from Zelda.
- Off-screen voice: What is the robot for?
- Ponytail: Uh
- Ponytail: It could help with search and rescue after disasters.
- [Caption below the panel:]
- "It could help with search and rescue" is engineer-speak for "we just realized we need a justification for our cool robot."
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