2128: New Robot

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 01:00, 27 March 2019 by (talk) (Explanation)
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New Robot
"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..."
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..."


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a "Search and Rescue" Robot that can teleport but not discern where it is or what's around it. See discussion for article criticism. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

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, because 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 which will actually be tasked to 'search and destroy'. (See: lethal autonomous weapons.) Although search-and-rescue is a function that militaries perform, a robot which 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.

Additionally, the robot depicted here is entirely unsuitable for search-and-rescue, because it features a fragile balloon and frequent electrical discharges (which are bad enough for humans, but would also have a risk of causing explosions if there are gas leaks in the disaster zone). These are also flaws from a military perspective. Randall may be remarking on the tendency to use 'clickbaity' ('grantbaity') terminology to drum up support for research that funding agencies or the public might not otherwise support. "Cures cancer" is another such catchphrase.

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 it's 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.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[Ponytail is standing on a raised platform with a robot behind her, talking to someone off-screen. The spherical floating robot is equipped with an antenna that "zaps" a lightning bolt at the floor below it and a grappling gun.]
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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Boston Dynamics does this. “That Guy from the Netherlands” (talk) 16:23, 25 March 2019 (UTC)

I have to wonder if the title text is referring to the term "search and destroy", which would certainly be the second type. MAP (talk) 18:47, 25 March 2019 (UTC)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6M46HvyAG2k i'ts a robot! I prefer qwerty (talk) 21:29, 25 March 2019 (UTC)

Anyone else reminded of the Rovers from The Prisoner? 21:54, 25 March 2019 (UTC)

It seems like, from both the references(E.G. Hookshot) to various things and the captions, that this bot was built with the purpose of being cool rather than any sort of destructive nature. V (talk) 03:13, 26 March 2019 (UTC)

I don't think if a charged thing that uses a grappling hook in order to move is too cool as it would most probably discharge its static electricity as soon as it tries to shoot the hook at anything. As a 2nd thought I perhaps would think about if it is fit to be used as a weapon rather than as a rescue thingy, see 2072:_Evaluating_Tech_Things Gunterkoenigsmann (talk) 15:56, 28 March 2019 (UTC)
It doesn’t use static electricity, it uses a charged helium sphere. A.K.A. It isn’t in the hookshot. Even so, it doesn’t matter if it zaps everything at once because that’s also pretty cool. “That Guy from the Netherlands” (talk) 16:10, 28 March 2019 (UTC)

I thought I recognized that stage. 04:00, 26 March 2019 (UTC)

The (current) explanation completley misses the point of the one big advantage robots have for search and rescue missions. especially the search part: They often can access areas humans cannot for reasons such as temperature, space restrictions, safety, height/depth, radiation, etc. So especially for the search part it can be muc hbetter to send in a drone instead of a person. --Lupo (talk) 07:30, 26 March 2019 (UTC)

A drone is "much better" right up until you need to exert a force on something (clear some debris, open a door, drag the unconcious survivor out along the passage you've cleared...). At this point you need a wheeled, snake-like or multi-legged robot which can reasonably support and anchor itself, a situation where having lots of mass (prohibitve for drones) and hence plenty of momentum and/or inertia becomes an advantage. 22:35, 27 March 2019 (UTC)
That is why there is the need to have many differently specialised robots/drones, and constantly developing new ones which can take special tasks as part of "search and rescue". --Lupo (talk) 08:16, 28 March 2019 (UTC)

I'm on mobile and it is too awkward to fix up the current explanation, but it is completely off the mark. The sphere is not a fragile balloon, this is why he didn't say balloon. Engineers come up with robots because they are fun and impressive challenges to make, and it's really cool to make something that has never been made before, especially if it solves a hard problem or it replicates popular fictional media, but others don't understand this and wonder what all the effort is expended for. Floating objects accumulate atmospheric charge relative to ground - this can be used as a weak power source and is the source of lightning. 11:52, 26 March 2019 (UTC)

In complete agreement with ^^ about the fragile balloon. I'd say something more along the lines of "Impractical for the 'rescue' bit", but a sphere isn't necessarily fragile. Glassvein (talk) 02:52, 27 March 2019 (UTC)

It also states that the helium is a sphere -- "floats using a helium sphere" -- not that the helium is contained in a sphere. Seems there might be some considerable engineering challenges there, either to keep gaseous helium "attached" to the robot and to keep it from dissipating or to make and maintain a non-gaseous sphere of helium. Kinda difficult to have solid helium hanging around, for instance...

And how does the device charge itself electrically if it has no connection to the ground?Gunterkoenigsmann (talk) 16:02, 28 March 2019 (UTC)
A battery? “That Guy from the Netherlands” (talk) 16:10, 28 March 2019 (UTC)
Just like a helium balloon is not a balloon made out of helium, but a balloon filled with helium, a helium sphere is not a sphere made out of helium, but a sphere filled with helium. --Pbb (talk) 07:24, 2 April 2019 (UTC)