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DARPA's 'Avatar' project will put $7 million into robot surrogates

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US military agency DARPA has a $7 million budget allocation for the "Avatar" project, which aims to advance telepresence to allow soldiers to work through robotic surrogates.

Avatar iTunes Extras special edition
Avatar iTunes Extras special edition

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, may have the keenest sense of irony we've ever seen. The 2013 proposed budget includes $7 million to fund the so-called "Avatar" project, which would "develop interfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bi-pedal machine and allow it to act as the soldier’s surrogate." The robot could then act in place of the soldier to clear rooms or recover combat casualties using advanced telepresence mechanisms. There's little information about the project, but it's a logical next step in a program that is already working to create pet-like interaction between soldiers and robots.

The project may be looking for the same kind of human-surrogate interaction that was portrayed in its James Cameron-directed namesake, but its budget isn't nearly as large — the film Avatar cost over $230 million. And if you've ever watched it, you'll remember how well the program actually worked out for the military, which was largely portrayed as callous and rapacious. Still, any advancement in telepresence is going to be good news both for soldiers and other industries that will be able to use the technology to keep humans out of dangerous working environments. We just hope DARPA doesn't get all its inspiration from sci-fi villains.