Bluebird Marine Systems has been asked to look at the possibility of building the biggest animatronic ant in the world








A serious hard case, giant ants from Australia


DINO - THE DINOBOT - You can't beat nature. We'll not be aiming to replicate this scheme 100%, but doing an interpretation based on likely evolution with a lot of artistic licence thrown in. 'Dino' the 'DinoBot' is a fully functional educational robot, not a toy. The name comes from the fact that some ants are virtually unchanged since prehistoric times, hence: Dinosaur = Dino, and it is of course a giant robot = Bot. Put together this gives us 'DinoBot.' In the workshop we calling the prototype, affectionately: 'Dino,' after Fred Flintstones pet dinosaur.



Head of a giant ant against a background of working drawings


WARNING - Stop reading right now if you are frightened of creepy crawlies. Arachnid phobia is a real symptom for those who are scared of spiders. Insects can be just as bothersome - and army ants are feared by every animal in the jungle with good reason - they are deadly. Imagine then that fear multiplied by one hundred and fifty times - and then you can just begin to imagine the terror of being chased by one of these creatures. Real or not.


Shown above is the artwork for the head of a giant ant that in the proposed film project has been thawed out from Antarctic ice. Please note that this photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd 2015. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 






Bluebird Marine Systems have been asked to look at the possibility of improving one of the most exciting special effects animatronic ants in the world. If the project goes ahead it will not produce one of the largest special effect robots, but one of the most realistic and potentially useful platforms, most immediately to be used to make a long overdue revamping of the 1957 classic movie. The unit(s) may also suit many operators of exhibitions of all kinds, including museums and natural history parks - when they can be made to relate to audiences - and in that mode - appear docile. For example, there are now dozens of banking and other customer information robots coming out of Japan and even companions hitting the shops from the US.


The brief is to create the largest 'interactive' robotic ant in the world. There are already some extraordinarily large in-animate ant sculptures all over the world. The robotic product must be capable of thrilling audiences with a combination of movement, light and sound, but be incapable of harming a human. Not 3 laws safe via programming, but with built in mechanical safety features.


That's a tall order where such a large exhibit will have powerful jaws that can cut through doors, but still be capable of lifting a stunt man or woman without even bruising them. Especially as the project is just for the Christmas holidays, into the New Year 2016.


The starting point might be the frame or chassis of the robot, made steady by six legs that must take all the loads asked of the giant ant. We are thus using heavy duty spherical rod ends as the joints of the beast.



The body artwork of the giant animatronic ant


HYMENOPTERA - Shown above is the artwork for the body of a giant ant that in the proposed film project hatches from a deep frozen egg recovered from Antarctic ice. Please note that this photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd 2015. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 





The design of a set is just as important as the engineering that goes into these giant ants. The ant robot is the starting point for the mechanicals of any scene, exhibition or display, but they should be joined at the hip. Check out the making of our revolving display for a model boat exhibit at the Old Billingsgate halls in London, November 2015. Note how the stand compliments the exhibit and the two work together to put on a good show. This is what we mean by being joined at the hip.



Technical drawing of the frame of the head of a giant robot ant


HEADS UP - This is a drawing of head detail from a previous study. We like the concept but it may be a little complex for our purposes. We are going to simplify the mechanics as much as we can to contain costs. The producers of a teaser hope to bring this in on a tight budget - to eventually attract investors for a feature film. Please note that this photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd 2015. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 



Making the tail artwork for the giant robot ant 


BODYWORK - How do you make a master mold? Click on the pictures above to find out how it is done. This is the tail master artwork for the production moulds. The bodywork can be made bullet-proof, or extremely light. Obviously cost is an issue, if molded from ordinary fiberglass the unit will still be strong enough for public displays. If for use as a soldier ant in wargaming, more exotic (and expensive) kevlar and aramid weaves are necessary.



A spherical rod end in stainless steel

LEG JOINTS - Heavy duty spherical rod ends are used for the leg (hip) joints. These can take several tons each. A wooden peg that fits tight inside the bore of the stainless steel ball is screwed to the base. The peg rotates slightly off centre to allow us to position precisely. This gives us an accurate position when it comes to assembly before welding of the chassis. These joints are expensive, but last a long time. They even have grease nipples and can be ordered with rubber shrouds. They will have to be modified for our purposes with another rod welded onto the opposite end to the screw threaded section. NOTE: Spherical joints are not as controllable as hinge joints. You have to be careful when designing a robot to use the best joint for the job. 

ANT parts


PRODUCTION JIG - A base for the jig is accurately marked out on a 25mm softwood base. Next comes a support for the steel box section frame (not yet shown). The legs joints are in situ, with the head and tail joint centers marked with circles and a screw. These are the hard points of the working mechanics. Unlike most animatronic displays, this robot will be able to walk autonomously, lift heavy objects and even stand guard. Please note that this photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd 2015. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 



12" x 6" RHS steel tubes as the frame for Stompy


STOMPY 6 TON HEXAPOD PROJECT - Check out the frame main chassis section for this US robot vehicle project. Strictly speaking this is not a robot, but a machine driven by a human operator who sits inside a cab, much like the Mantis hexapod project of Matt Denton, a few years back. Compare the size of the steel box sections cut from 12" x 6" RHS steel tubing. That's a lot of steel! Stompy is powered by a LNG fuelled internal combustion engine from a fork lift truck. The power to weight ratio is roughly 44.5 lbs per horsepower, meaning that walking efficiency is pretty low - and that explains the slow speed. We are sure this can be improved. The point here is that they have produced a working prototype as a platform for development - a major achievement. So well done to all the stompers.



In the laboratory, we stage a mock up to gauge size


LAYOUT - We could not resist doing a quick mock-up and are pleased that even this is starting to look like the real bulldog ant. The steel version of the frame will be a standard platform that will be made available to schools, museums and other operators for around £500 pounds ($750 dollars). That gives you a 2.4m (8' foot) hexapod (9' [2.7m extended stretch] and legs for you to makes your own bodywork and static display unit. If you'd like this bodywork in GRP add another £200 pounds ($300 dollars). We are seeking best prices for parts at the moment - so be aware that these prices are ballpark.


If you'd like the robot programmed to interact with an audience, we can also arrange that for you, but at more cost. Please note that this photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd 2015. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 


WALKING - The budget movement will be a basic variable track system with independent transmissions on the left and on the right driven by medium sized DC motors. This is suitable for radio control, with a human operator. A more advanced movement will involve hydraulic actuators and a degree of artificial intelligence, to include object recognition. We could also include GPS tracking - but what for, we have no idea, other than as an anti-theft device.


MILITARY - Under no circumstances may our products be used by any military or law enforcement organization, for any warlike or crowd control purposes. Anyone purchasing one of these units will be required to sign a binding undertaking (Deed) to that effect. Any unit found to have been purchased by proxy, will be confiscated, along with civil remedy in respect of breach of contract, that all parties in the chain will be liable for - to include damages for vehicles developed from our designs without our consent.



Arduion micro computer  Raspberry pi mini computer


ARDUINOS AND RASPBERRIES - This kit (not yet generally available - save for special order) is ideal for teaching junior programmers how they can make things happen. You'll be able to get this robot to do almost anything with the very popular Arduino and Raspberry Pi computer boards, turning it into an autonomous vehicle, if that is your bag. If you cannot afford to buy one of these gems, you are most welcome to send in your software, or even visit the workshop and programme the little beauty yourself. If this is your thing, please contact us in advance to arrange a time to visit.


EXTRAS - A more advanced version with a titanium chassis and exotic aramid or kevlar composite bodywork that is bullet-proof, will be available at extra cost for robot war type gaming. Basically, our moulds can be used to lay up most combinations, to include vacuum and foam cores if warranted. We'd suggest equipping the more highly specified robots with a low output (3-5 watt) laser to be able to score during simulation combat - or electing the hydraulic version when the jaws might easily cut through an opposing robot's legs - or whatever. Play safely.




SALVAGE - Rather than experiment with new parts, we are using recycled parts from many redundant machines and this one bicycle that had seen better days. Some of the bearings, steel and sprockets came from this push-bike. When you have a rig that works well, of course, use new parts that may have a higher specification. The steel and alloy parts of bicycles are relatively high quality - because a bike has to be light and functional - just like a robot. The Wright Brothers were cycle makers. They used their bicycle making skills to create an aircraft. When disassembling a push bike for parts, be sure to use the correct tools. For taper-fit cranks you will need a threaded extractor tool and for chains a link-extractor. Modern bike chains do not have the split links that were common in years gone by.




LEG DRAWINGS - Insects are complex animals. Note here that each thigh of the six legs is a different length. That means that the gearing of each leg will change for a smooth walking cycle - and then again the connecting rods will be different lengths and at different angles. Where's the ibuprofen when you need it? They are also handed, meaning that the left hind leg is a mirror image of the right hind leg, but they are not the same. That means making six separate leg moulds for the composite versions. We will be carving in wood at first, to make the master for the moulds.


Careful design of the leg is important if we are to avoid another actuator for the lower leg. We are thinking about a two-stage spring loaded systems at the moment. Amputee athletes use a similar system for high speed track events. Please note that this photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd 2015. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 



A real Bulldog Ant specimen from Australia


BULLDOG ANT - This is the specimen that we have been loaned to be able to complete this particular feasibility study. It is about 35 years old. It comes from the Australian outback where they are fairly common and feared by all because they can jump many feet in one bound, so can outrun a man for short distances. They also have a nasty sting that can paralyze a man. Phew! That is at 25mm in length. Now imagine the animal 110 times that size. That equals 2.74 meters or 9 feet.




BODY PARTS - December 12 2015 - The three main body parts are shown here together; the tail is now black, but still needs surface finishing. Ants have a high degree of movement, as an engineering structure. That is because in the world they live in, combat between species is inevitable. The main weapon of an ant is the sting, which can be much modified to spray acid or release toxic gels. Please note that this photograph is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd 2015. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. Schools, colleges and universities automatically have permission from JHL, provided that the use of their pictures is for study or classroom projects.



Frame or skeleton - Steel, aluminum, plastic, and wood are all commonly used in building animatronics but each has its best purpose. The relative strength as well as the weight of the material itself should be considered when determining the most appropriate material to use. The cost of the material may also be a concern.


Exterior or skin - Several materials are commonly used in the fabrication of an animatronic figure's exterior, mostly rubber. In the case of an insect, the out shell is more likely to be composite based. For example, "eyes" and "teeth" are commonly made out of acrylic. In this case the jaws are not just for show, they must be able to lift around 130 kilograms (300 lbs) and when required, tear into doors.



A clever ant robot with printed circuits on its exoskelton


CLEVER DESIGN - This larger than life ant robot has the electronic wiring printed on the exoskeleton of the insect.



Brookfield Zoo, animatronic ant display


ZOO KEEPER - A giant leafcutter ant, one of the Xtreme insects at Brookfield Zoo, Illinois, USA. Brookfield Zoo, also known as the Chicago Zoological Park. The park is located in the Chicago suburb of Brookfield, Illinois. It houses around 450 species of animals in an area of 216 acres. Address: 8400 W 31st St, Brookfield, IL 60513, United States. +1 708-688-8000



Exploreum giant animatronic stag beetle


EXPLOREUM - A gulf coast animatronic display being installed, this one a giant (stag like) beetle. Note the operating systems and pressure cylinder actuators.





Jaws is the name of a famous film with Steven Spielberg at the helm of the camera. Jaws are also one of the main features of this project, Amazingly, an ant can hang upside down from a branch from its feet, while carrying a 500 gram weight in its jaws. That is 100 times its body weight. The neck joint of an ant can take 5,000 times the loading of its own body weight. That makes sharks seem pretty lame.



Humanoids wanting to be humans


HUMANOIDS - The subject of science fiction at the moment, but with more engineers and artists getting involved, one day humans may have droids to sort out everyday chores and as companions for the elderly and disabled. There are thus serious social advantages to developing animatronic robots. We'd like one please. You should see Ex Machina as the warning on the label.


It is though, a whole different ball game. You can start off with a steel frame and hard actuators, but soon you will be into simulating body touch and feel, including temperature, with looks being perhaps the most important aspect. If you are going to have a robot about the house, it might as well look pleasing, like a beautiful painting or car. We call this soft furnishings. Did you know that our bones have roughly the same strength tensile as cast iron. Not that strong, and that is why we sometimes break them, even with our pain and caution software hard wired into us. The good news about humans is that for minor injuries, we self-heal.





A mechatronics engineer unites the principles of mechanics, electronics, and computing to produce a robot that looks and acts like the real subject, even where there is no real subject. In the case of larger than life insects, we call it "insectronics."



London's Natural History Museum exhibit


MUSEUM PIECE - The Natural History Museum in London uses animatronic models of dinosaurs to bring their displays to life and entertain visitors. The trend continues to make this one of the fastest growing business areas for young engineers to get their teeth into.



Giant ant prop used in making the 1954 film: Them


WARNER BROS. - One of the giant ant props at the special effects workshops of the famous film company back in 1954. Wow, if we had that space and their budget! In the film world, anything is not only possible, but expected - and right now. Audiences are hungry for their next sci-fi fix.





Japan’s biggest bank is preparing to unveil robot employees with a human touch.

Nao, a 58-centimetre (1ft 11)-tall humanoid developed by the French company Aldebaran Robotics – a subsidiary of the Japanese telecoms and internet giant SoftBank - will begin work on a trial basis at one or two branches of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group from April.

Depending on his performance, more robots could appear at other branches in the coming months.

Equipped with a camera on his forehead, Nao is programmed to speak 19 languages. He analyses customers’ emotions from their facial expressions and tone of voice, enabling him to greet customers and ask which services they need.

The 5.4-kg robot, who was “born” in Paris in 2006, lived up to his billing with a faultless interaction with an English-speaking customer, during a presentation in Tokyo this week.

“Hello and welcome,” Nao said. “I can tell you about money exchange, ATMs, opening a bank account, or overseas remittance. Which one would you like?”

Mitsubishi UFJ is one of several Japanese firms that are investing in “non-human resources” amid calls by the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, for the country to embark on a “robot revolution” to counter the country’s shrinking workforce and boost growth.

Nestle Japan has announced plans to employ Pepper, another Aldebaran-SoftBank “emotional” robot, to sell its coffee machines at up to 1,000 outlets by the end of this year.

The 120-centimetre-tall android already works as a shop assistant at SoftBank mobile phone outlets in Tokyo – a move its chief executive, Masayoshi Son, described as a “baby step on our dream to make a robot that can understand a person’s feelings, and then autonomously take action”.

Last month, the operator of Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki said its two-storey Henn na (strange) Hotel would be run almost entirely by robots, from its porters to room cleaners and front desk staff, when it opens this summer.

Guests at the futuristic hotel will be given the option of using facial recognition technology to open the door to their room instead of a key. About 10 human employees will work alongside their robotic colleagues.

After ironing out one or two minor glitches, Mitsubishi UFJ believes Nao will be able to handle even the trickiest of customers, and should be in full customer-service flow by the time Tokyo experiences an influx of overseas visitors during the 2020 Olympics.

“Robots can supplement services by performing tasks that our human workers can’t, such as 24-hour banking and multilingual communication,” Takuma Nomoto, chief manager of information technology initiatives at the bank, said at the presentation, according to Bloomberg.

“Nao is cute and friendly, and I believe our customers will like it.”





Boris the humanoid presenter from Globalnet 360        Ed 209 law enforcement droid


BORIS - Boris is a life sized humanoid robot from Globalnet 360 designed for human interaction in a public environment. Boris is fully interactive, multilingual, and user-friendly, making it a perfect device with which to communicate and entertain. He is available for hire to perform at your venues, complete with a roboteer to create custom content. We saw a demonstration where Boris changes from blue to red to simulate anger. His eyes change colour and the machine waves its arms about.


CONTACT: 360Globalnet Ltd, Bourne House, 475 Godstone Road, Whyteleafe, Surrey CR3 0BL. Tel: 01883 621000 





LOWER GROUND FLOOR STAND No 60 - Potentially of interest to BMS for marine animatronics applications was a linear actuator that is around 65% efficient. Dr Graham Whitely (Tech Dir) and Craig Fletcher (Man Dir) were on the stand to explain the advantages of the system to our roving delegate. Wavedrives Limited are developing a range of what amounts to electro-mechanical muscles for prosthetic or robotic applications. Wavedrives is a spin off of Elumotion Ltd’s patent system. Their focus is on sustainable, electro-mechanical and robotic solutions capable of human-compatible motion that is smooth and judder free with fine control.


CONTACTS - Unit 1, Wansdyke Business Centre, Oldfield Lane, Bath, BA2 3LY. Tel: 01225 466633  Web:




LASERS - An example of a laser driver circuit diagram without a potentiometer and a 4 ohm resistor. Lasers are now used as weapons on US Navy warships as part of their strategic development. Lasers are useful for robotic systems. In the case of a robot ant, lasers may be useful for ranging and stinging as a simulated warning mechanism.




TAZERS - A 20,000 - 150,000 volt charge combines with the electrical signals from a human brain to confuse it. At its most basic, this is all there is to incapacitating a person with a stun gun - you apply electricity to a person's muscles and nerves, and since there are muscles and nerves all over the body, it usually works to deter an aggressor.



Mitsubishi customer service droid





Move over George Clooney – Nestlé has employed a fleet of chirpy robots to sell its coffee machines in Japanese stores.

The US actor, who has become the global face of the Nespresso brand, has been given the elbow in favour of Pepper, a cheeky and chatty android, which its makers claim can answer customers’ questions.

“How do you enjoy coffee? Number one: An eye-opener coffee; Number two: A post-meal cup of coffee,” Pepper asked a Japanese TV personality, Kyoko Uchida, at a promotion event in Tokyo on Monday.

The 120cm-tall robot has a human-like face perched on top of a white plastic body, with rollers and what looks like a tablet computer on its chest.

The gimmick will eventually see 1,000 stores across Japan with their own Pepper, which makers say can understand up to 80% of conversations.

The robots will “help us discover consumer needs through conversations between our customers and Pepper,” said a joint statement from Nestlé and SoftBank, whose French arm Aldebaran developed the technology.

Pepper – which was unveiled in June by SoftBank’s president, Masayoshi Son – already sells mobile phones at SoftBank’s 74 Japanese stores, where it has been used to collect customers’ opinions.

Engineers claim the robot’s artificial intelligence has allowed it to expand its conversational ability by listening to what customers say.

The robot will go on sale to the public in February, with a price tag of 198,000 yen (£1,060) plus monthly fees.



Susan Chochran's giant any sculptures, Florida Museum of Natural History


PALM BEACH DAILY NEWS AUG 2015 - Susan P. Cochran’s giant ant sculptures “X” and “O” have been installed at UF in front of the Florida Museum of Natural History as part of the university’s Creative B summer program. Photo Courtesy of Kristen Grace, Florida Museum of Natural History. Eye-catching work by the Palm Beach artist is now on view in Gainesville as part of a public art project sponsored by the University of Florida. The cast bronze sculptures are two 6-foot-by-9 ants titled “X” and “O.” The outdoor installation opened with a reception July 7 at the Florida Museum of Natural History, and will be on view there for one year. By Jane Fetterly


The University of Florida campus in Gainesville has research sites throughout the world. But the Museum is more than facilities and a repository for millions of specimens and artifacts. Their faculty, staff, part-time employees and volunteers are passionately committed to learning and communicating to others the fascination we share for our natural and cultural worlds.

The geographic emphasis focuses on Florida, the Caribbean Basin and Latin America. Since its beginning in 1891 the Florida Museum has evolved into a world-class institution committed to inspiring people to value the biological richness and cultural heritage of our diverse world and make a positive difference in its future. Florida Museum of Natural History, Powell Hall, 3215 Hull Road, PO Box 112710, University of Florida. Tel: +1 352-846-2000





The US military is currently looking for robot specialists to build swarms of war drones that work together without the need to be individually controlled by pilots on the ground.

It's yet another milestone in the shift towards building the sorts of robot armies we've grown used to seeing in science fiction.

So far, autonomous robots have played a minor role in warfare - with a limited number of drones carrying out aerial bombing in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as robots being used for bomb disposal and surveillance.

However, defence agencies across the world are investing heavily in technology that can reduce bloodshed and automate acts of war, with one senior American officer saying he could replace a quarter of troops with robots and remote-controlled vehicles.

There are also moves being made to develop cyborg soldiers - humans and animals augmented by technology.

So what will the robot army of the future look like? Here are some of the breakthroughs.


The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working to develop advanced humanoid robots for years.

One such robot is Atlas, a 6’2” machine that walks on two legs and is designed - at least for the time being - for disaster relief. [No chance]

It's not hard to imagine swapping out Atlas's arms for guns and turning him into a terrifying foot soldier.





MIT'S CHEETAH - Cambridge, Massachusetts - it's a robot inspired by the world's fastest land animal, controlled by video game technology and packing nifty sensors - including one used to maneuver drones, satellites and ballistic missiles. The robot, called the Cheetah, can run on batteries at speeds of more than 10 mph, jump about 16 inches high, land safely and continue galloping for at least 15 minutes - all while using less power than a microwave oven. In the above (Oct. 24 2014) photo, a robotic cheetah runs on an athletic field at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. MIT said the robot, modeled after the fastest land animal, may have real-world applications, including prosthetic legs. Note that a robot land speed record has never been set. This would entail running unaided and un-tethered for a set distance in two directions. It must be that same stretch of land, or track and the timed runs must be within an hour, just like any other Land Speed Record. The laboratory tests where the Cheetah was timed at around 28mph are fake results, latched onto by the media (in good spirits - but nevertheless misleading to the public). A robot claiming a land speed record must run outside of laboratory conditions and carry its own power supply.


Scientists at MIT's Biometrics Robotics Lab have now trained their robotic Cheetah to see and jump over hurdles as it runs, making this the first four-legged robot to run and jump over obstacles autonomously. The cheetah's previous greatest accomplishment was that it was able to run untethered. MIT researchers Hae Wong Park, Patrick Wensing and Sangbae Kim first tested the robot's agility on a treadmill in their lab and then let the robot off its leash to see if the robotic cat could run and jump on its own. The Cheetah, which weighs about 70 lbs, cleared 18-inch hurdles while moving at a speed of 5 mph. It has been claimed that the robot can run at 13 mph on a flat course. That is of course amazing and we'd like to see some footage of that speed if anyone can point us to that? What a shame this was not timed - or maybe it was? One thing, there is no bodywork to protect the machinery and electronics. Bodywork, or Armour, will add significantly to the mass of the Cheetah, reducing its performance considerably. Until protected, even from the elements, this machine is extremely vulnerable. One shot from a low output laser will cripple the exposed electronics.




AlphaDog is a four-legged horse/mule robot designed for military purposes to carry heavy loads of equipment. The sturdy machine can run across uneven and rocky terrain and it can also right itself very easily if it is pushed over or falls. It's being tested by the US Army and could one day be used on the battlefield.


Bomb disposal is a highly-skilled and risky profession, so it makes complete sense to let a robot get up close and personal with the explosives, while the human commander can watch and give commands from afar.

iRobot's 710 Kobra is designed to detonate bombs from a safe distance, controlled via a touchscreen app.






Teeny tiny robots can creep into small spaces to spy on enemy lines and check for bombs. RHex is a small, sturdy six-legged robot with a camera that can climb over rocks, through mud and vegetation and up slopes. It has night vision cameras for stealth missions.


We've got the skies covered with drones, but what about the seas? The US Navy has been working on a swarm of robot boats that work together autonomously to overwhelm a target.

The boats are designed to follow a bigger boat like a pack of guard dogs and then attack on command using weapons if necessary.



A small tracked robot guarding a park




Along border between North and South Korea are dotted weaponised robot sentries that are alert 24 hours per day. It can detect intruders using machine vision and fire at targets three miles away. The system requires no human presence.


DARPA is exploring the idea of creating an airborne mothership that could launch and recover multiple small drones.

The sky-based aircraft carrier would be useful for releasing surveillance and killing missions without putting pilots at risk.


Instead of replacing humans with robots, why not augment humans with wearable computers, helmet visors with a heads-up display and night vision as well as robotic exoskeletons for super-human strength.

A number of neuroscience techniques are also being tested to improve alertness and allow for mind-controlled weapons.






In the city of Daejeon, South Korea, an arms manufacturer has designed and built a gun turret that’s able to identify, track and shoot targets, theoretically without the need for human mediation. Who will teach these robot soldiers the rules of engagement?

On a green hill overlooking the tree-lined perimeter of Daejeon, a city in central South Korea, a machine gun turret idly scans the horizon. It’s about the size of a large dog; plump, white and wipe-clean. A belt of bullets .50 calibre, the sort that can stop a truck in its tracks – is draped over one shoulder. An ethernet cable leads from the gun’s base and trails through the tidy grass into a small gazebo tent that, in the Korean afternoon heat, you'd be forgiven for hoping might contain plates of cucumber sandwiches and a pot of tea.

Instead, the cable slithers up onto a trestle table before plunging into the back of a computer, whose screen displays a colourful patchwork of camera feeds. One shows a 180-degree, fish-eye sweep of the horizon in front of us. Another presents a top down satellite view of the scene, like a laid-out Google Map, trained menacingly on our position.

A red cone, overlaid on the image, indicates the turret’s range. It spreads across the landscape: four kilometres-worth of territory, enough distance to penetrate deep into the city from this favourable vantage point. Next to the keyboard sits a complicated joystick, the kind a PC flight simulator enthusiast might use. A laminated sheet is taped to the table in front of the controller, reporting the function of its various buttons. One aims. Another measures the distance from the gun to its target. One loads the bullets into the chamber. Pull the trigger and it will fire.





A gaggle of engineers standing around the table flinch as, unannounced, a warning barks out from a massive, tripod-mounted speaker. A targeting square blinks onto the computer screen, zeroing in on a vehicle that’s moving in the camera’s viewfinder. The gun’s muzzle pans as the red square, like something lifted from futuristic military video game Call of Duty, moves across the screen. The speaker, which must accompany the turret on all of its expeditions, is known as an acoustic hailing robot. Its voice has a range of three kilometres. The sound is delivered with unimaginable precision, issuing a warning to a potential target before they are shot (a warning must precede any firing, according to international law, one of the lab-coat wearing engineers tells me). “Turn back,” it says, in rapid-fire Korean. “Turn back or we will shoot.”

The “we” is important. The Super aEgis II, South Korea’s best-selling automated turret, will not fire without first receiving an OK from a human. The human operator must first enter a password into the computer system to unlock the turret’s firing ability. Then they must give the manual input that permits the turret to shoot. “It wasn’t initially designed this way,” explains Jungsuk Park, a senior research engineer for DoDAAM, the turret’s manufacturer. Park works in the Robotic Surveillance Division of the company, which is based in the Yuseong tech district of Daejon. It employs 150 staff, most of whom, like Park, are also engineers. “Our original version had an auto-firing system,” he explains. “But all of our customers asked for safeguards to be implemented. Technologically it wasn’t a problem for us. But they were concerned the gun might make a mistake.”

The Super aEgis II, first revealed in 2010, is one of a new breed of automated weapon, able to identify, track and destroy a moving target from a great distance, theoretically without human intervention. The machine has proved popular and profitable. DoDAAM claims to have sold more than 30 units since launch, each one as part of integrated defence systems costing more than $40m (£28m) apiece. The turret is currently in active use in numerous locations in the Middle East, including three airbases in the United Arab Emirates (Al Dhafra, Al Safran and Al Minad), the Royal Palace in Abu Dhabi, an armoury in Qatar and numerous other unspecified airports, power plants, pipelines and military airbases elsewhere in the world.

The past 15 years has seen a concerted development of such automated weapons and drones. The US military uses similar semi-autonomous robots designed for bomb disposal and surveillance. In 2000, US Congress ordered that one-third of military ground vehicles and deep-strike aircraft should be replaced by robotic vehicles. Six years later, hundreds of PackBot Tactical Mobile Robots were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan to open doors in urban combat, lay optical fibre, defuse bombs and perform other hazardous duties that would have otherwise been carried out by humans.






As early as 2005 the New York Times reported the Pentagon’s plans to replace soldiers with autonomous robots. It is easy to understand why. Robots reduce the need for humans in combat and therefore save the lives of soldiers, sailors and pilots. What parent would send their child into a war zone if a robot could do the job instead? But while devices such as the Super aEgis II that are able to kill autonomously have existed for more than a decade, as far as the public knows no fully autonomous gun-carrying robots have been used in active service.

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s First Law of Robotics, that ‘a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm’, looks like it will soon be broken. The call from Human Rights Watch for an outright ban on “the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons” seems preposterously unrealistic. Such machines already exist and are being sold on the market – albeit with, as DoDAAM’s Park put it, “self-imposed restrictions” on their capabilities.

“When we started this business we saw an opportunity,” says Yangchan Song, DoDAAM’s managing director of strategy planning, as we sit down in a cooled meeting room following the demonstration. “Automated weapons will be the future. We were right. The evolution has been quick. We’ve already moved from remote control combat devices, to what we are approaching now: smart devices that are able to make their own decisions.”

South Korea has become a leader in this area of military robotics because the country shares a border with its sworn enemy, according to DoDAAM’s CEO, Myung Kwang Chang (a portly man who wanders his factory’s corridors trailed by a handsome husky with bright blue eyes whom I am warned to never, ever touch). “Need is the mother of invention,” he says. “We live in a unique setting. We have a potent and ever-present enemy nearby. Because of this constant threat we have a tradition of developing a strong military and innovative supporting technology in this country. Our weapons don’t sleep, like humans must. They can see in the dark, like humans can’t. Our technology therefore plugs the gaps in human capability.”



Brookfield Zoo, giant wasp in horticultural gardens



At the DMZ, the thin strip of no-man’s land that separates democratic South Korea from the dictator-led North, DoDAAM and its competitor Samsung, who also designed a (now-defunct) automated turret, ran some tests with the Super aEgis II. The DMZ is the ideal location for such a weapon. The zone has separated the two Koreas since the end of official hostilities in 1953; because they never signed a ceasefire, the DMZ is an uninhabited buffer zone scrupulously guarded by thousands of soldiers on both sides. Not only does the turret never sleep and not only can it see in the dark (thanks to its thermal camera), once it's pointing in the right direction, it can be sure that any moving targets identified in the area are enemies. Things become more complicated when the machine is placed in a location where friend and foe could potentially mix, however. Currently, the weapon has no way to distinguish between the two.

Song sits at the wide table flanked by five young engineers, most of whom were educated at Ivy League colleges in America, before returning to work in the lucrative South Korean weapons industry. “The next step for us to get to a place where our software can discern whether a target is friend, foe, civilian or military,” he explains. “Right now humans must identify whether or not a target is an adversary.” Park and the other engineers claim that they are close to eliminating the need for this human intervention. The Super aEgis II is accomplished at finding potential targets within an area. (An operator can even specify a virtual perimeter, so only moving elements within that area are picked out by the gun.) Then, thanks to its numerous cameras, Park says the gun’s software can discern whether or not a potential target is wearing explosives under their shirt. “Within a decade I think we will be able to computationally identify the type of enemy based on their uniform,” he says.

Once a weapon is able to tell friend from foe, and to automatically fire upon the latter, it’s a short step to full automation. And as soon as a weapon can decide who and when to kill, Robocop-esque science fiction becomes fact. The German philosopher Thomas Metzinger has argued that the prospect of increasing the amount of suffering in the world is so morally awful that we should cease building artificially-intelligent robots immediately. But the financial rewards for companies who build these machines are such that Metzinger’s plea is already obsolete. The robots are not coming; they are already here. The question now is, what do we teach them?




ATLAS - Atlas is a bipedal humanoid robot primarily developed by the American robotics company Boston Dynamics, with funding and oversight from the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The 1.8-meter (6 ft) robot is designed for a variety of search and rescue tasks, and was unveiled to the public on July 11, 2013.




Philippa Foot’s trolley dilemma, first posited in 1967, is familiar to any ethics student. She suggested the following scenario: a runaway train car is approaching a fork in the tracks. If it continues un-diverted, a work crew of five will be struck and killed. If it steers down the other track, a lone worker will be killed. What do you, the operator, do? This kind of ethical quandary will soon have to be answered not by humans but by our machines. The self-driving car may have to decide whether or not to crash into the car in front, potentially injuring those occupants, or to swerve off the road instead, placing its own passengers in danger. (The development of Google’s cars has been partly motivated by the designer Sebastian Thrun’s experience of losing someone close to him in a car crash. It reportedly led to his belief that there is a moral imperative to build self-driving cars to save lives.)

Likewise, a fully autonomous version of the Predator drone may have to decide whether or not to fire on a house whose occupants include both enemy soldiers and civilians. How do you, as a software engineer, construct a set of rules for such a device to follow in these scenarios? Is it possible to programme a device to think for itself? For many, the simplest solution is to sidestep these questions by simply requiring any automated machine that puts human life in danger to allow a human override. This is the reason that landmines were banned by the Ottawa treaty in 1997. They were, in the most basic way imaginable, autonomous weapons that would explode whoever stepped on them.



Robot ant colony


LEGO MINDSTORM - Based on components from the well know range from Lego, this project by Sheffield University & City College in Thessaloniki, Greece, shows what is possible when you put your mind to something - beginning with basic building blocks. Students had to build a robot and then program the 'ants' to find food for the colony.



In this context the provision of human overrides make sense. It seems obvious, for example, that pilots should have full control over a plane's autopilot system. But the 2015 Germanwings disaster, when co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane into the French Alps, killing all 150 passengers, complicates the matter. Perhaps, in fact, no pilot should be allowed to over-ride a computer – at least, not if it means they are able to fly a plane into a mountainside?

“There are multiple approaches to trying to develop ethical machines, and many challenges,” explains Gary Marcus, cognitive scientist at NYU and CEO and Founder of Geometric Intelligence. “We could try to pre-program everything in advance, but that’s not trivial – how for example do you program in a notion like ‘fairness’ or ‘harm’?” There is another dimension to the problem aside from ambiguous definitions. For example, any set of rules issued to an automated soldier will surely be either too abstract to be properly computable, or too specific to cover all situations.

Some believe the answer, then, is to mimic the way in which human beings build an ethical framework and learn to reflect on different moral rules, making sense of which ones fit together. “We acquire an intuitive sense of what’s ethically acceptable by watching how others behave and react to situations,” says Colin Allen, professor of cognitive science and the philosophy of science at Indiana University, and co-author of the book Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right From Wrong. “In other words, we learn what is and isn’t acceptable, ethically speaking, from others – with the danger that we may learn bad behaviours when presented with the wrong role models. Either machines will have to have similar learning capacities or they will have to have very tightly constrained spheres of action, remaining bolted to the factory floor, so to speak.”

At DoDAAM, Park has what appears to be a sound compromise. “When we reach the point at which we have a turret that can make fully autonomous decisions by itself, we will ensure that the AI adheres to the relevant army’s manual. We will follow that description and incorporate those rules of engagement into our system.”



Warmongers developing killing weapons


OVERKILL - Imagine the size robot you'd need to field one of these weapons. It is harking back to the days of tanks. The logistics are mind boggling. When it comes to autonomy and killing humans, the responsibility goes back to whoever places the robot(s) in a battle zone. Our legal expert says that it is possible to write software that is safe, but that will of course include human overseers (the ones operating the robots or fighting a battle) and robotic safeguards to prevent humans causing deliberate loss of life - as in when a commander, pilot or whoever, loses the plot. It is surprising that more armies around the world are not using robots to patrol borders. Not only would that save human lives, but would also be far more of a peacekeeping solution than the present system that really only serves to keep arms dealer rich.




For Allen, however, this could be a flawed plan. “Google admits that one of the hardest problems for their programming is how an automated car should behave at a four-way stop sign,” he explains. “In this kind of scenario it’s a matter of being attuned to local norms, rather than following the highway code – which no humans follow strictly.” Surely, in the chaotic context of the battlefield, a robot must be able to think for itself? Likewise, there is a danger to “freezing” our values, both military and civilian, into hardware. “Imagine if the US Founders had frozen their values to permit slavery, the restricted rights of women and so forth,” says Marcus. “Ultimately, we would probably like a machine with a very sound basis to be able to learn for itself, and maybe even exceed our abilities to reason morally.”

For Anders Sandberg, a senior researcher at the Future of Humanity Institute Oxford Martin School, the potential rewards of offering machines the ability to construct their own ethical frameworks comes with considerable risks. “A truly self-learning system could learn different values and theories of what appropriate actions to do, and if it could reflect on itself it might become a real moral agent in the philosophical sense,” he says. “The problem is that it might learn seemingly crazy or alien values even if it starts from common-held human views.”

The clock is ticking on these questions. Companies such as DoDAAM continue to break new ground in the field, even before our species has adequate answers to the issues their work presents. “We should be investing now in trying to figure out how to regulate software, how to enforce those regulations, and how to verify that software does what we want it do,” urges Marcus. “We should also invest in figuring out how to implement ethical reasoning into machines. None of this easy; all of it is likely to became critical in the decades ahead.”

Allen believes there is still time. “We have an opportunity to think through the ramifications and possible solutions while the technology is still in development, which has not always been the case,” he says. “I would like to see business-government-citizen panels empowered to assess and monitor the deployment of machines that are capable of operating with little or no direct human supervision in public spaces such as roads and the airways. Such panels should provide oversight in much the same way that human subjects committees monitor research involving human subjects.”



RHEX THE PARKOUR ROBOT - UNIVERSITY PENNYSYLVANIA - Parkour is all about hurling yourself quickly and efficiently past whatever obstacles are in your path while maintaining as much momentum as possible. It's a challenge for humans, so how would robots fare? In an effort to push the boundaries of robotic agility, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania decided to find out by teaching their RHex robot some Parkour moves.

RHex is designed to be an all-terrain walking robot that can deal with curbs, stairs, puddles, rubble, sinkholes, and other obstacles to accomplish rescue missions or carry out sensor surveys in inhospitable areas. While the RHex has been around for over a decade, a modified version called XRL (X-RHex-Light) is now being taught some new tricks by UPenn's Professor Daniel Koditschek.

XRL differs from its earlier relatives by using lighter materials and simpler fabrication methods. A complete shell of carbon fiber panels surrounds the XRL frame, and it has only a single battery compartment. The XRL is 51 cm (20 in) long, 40.5 cm (16 in) wide, and the body alone is 10 cm (four inches) in thickness. The diameter of the six flexible rotating legs is 17.5 cm (6.9 in), giving the XRL ground clearance of 11 cm (4.3 in) regardless of which end is up at the moment. It's weight including battery pack is 6.7 kg (14.7 lb).





For motive power, the XRL depends on six 50 watt brushless pancake electric motors by Maxon (one for each leg). The actual peak power for these motors is about 380 watts, or about half a horsepower. These motors are geared down by a factor of either 18:1 or 23:1, depending on the nature of the landscape on which it is being tested. Powered derives from a ten-cell lithium polymer battery with a capacity of 83 W-hr at 37 volts. Battery weight is about 0.6 kg (1.3 lb).

The XRL legs are equipped with force and power sensors, which allow the work of maneuvering to be analyzed in detail. Among other benefits, the research team found that the response of the legs can be used to give an indication of on what sort of surface the XRL is walking. For example, the XRL responds to vinyl and asphalt surfaces in very much the same manner, but responds very differently to pebbles or grass surfaces (which are in turn similar to each other).

In addition to this sort of tactile feedback from the legs, the XRL is equipped with a laser scanner to obtain the same sort of feedback that a simple vision analysis system would provide, as well as an inertial navigation sensor and additional tactile sensors. These allow the XRL to maneuver through a simple (although challenging) landscape. Essentially, the XRL is limited to working with one extreme landscape feature at a time. All other maneuvering is the result of the stable balance inherent in the XRL design.

“What we want is a robot that can go anywhere, even over terrain that might be broken and uneven,” said graduate student Aaron Johnson. “These latest jumps greatly expand the range of what this machine is capable of, as it can now jump onto or across obstacles that are bigger than it is.”

The XRL certainly puts-on an impressive demonstration of jumping, clinging and cavorting over the urban landscape, as you will see on the video below.


Sandberg agrees, although he thinks that we are still some way off having workable answers that can be brought into any kind of regulation. “More research is urgently needed, he says. “Serious research on machine ethics and AI safety is an exceptionally new field - the first ideas started to show up in the late 1990s, decades after proper AI research was already well established. We are discovering new surprises at a high rate: both the instability of obvious means of making ethical machines, and deep philosophical problems posed by seemingly simple engineering problems.” Sandberg believes the key is interdisciplinary work by philosophers, engineers, sociologists and even economists. “Theory is not enough,” he says. “We need to be engaged with the people designing and deploying these systems.”

Back at DoDAAM’s factory in Daejeon, the engineers do not have clear answers for these questions that are so urgently raised by their work. “Human life is more important than anything, so that’s why we’ve implemented the safeguards that we have on our turret,” says Song. But for Park and the other engineers in his research division, this is a temporary state. Their aim is now to make the product “smarter” by focusing on “increasing the gun’s automatic functionality”, introducing “target recognition” and creating “entire networked systems”, whereby turrets link up with one another to cover greater distances.

Regardless of what’s possible in the future, automated machine guns capable of finding, tracking, warning and eliminating human targets, absent of any human interaction already exist in our world. Without clear international regulations, the only thing holding arms makers back from selling such machines appears to be the conscience, not of the engineer or the robot, but of the clients. “If someone came to us wanting a turret that did not have the current safeguards we would, of course, advise them otherwise, and highlight the potential issues,” says Park. “But they will ultimately decide what they want. And we develop to customer specification." 






Ants range in size from 0.75 to 52 millimeters (0.030–2.0 in), the largest species being the fossil Titanomyrma giganteum, the queen of which was 6 centimeters (2.4 in) long with a wingspan of 15 centimeters (5.9 in).


Titanomyrma is a genus of prehistoric giant ant. The latest species to be discovered, T. lubei, was described in 2011, when a 49.5 million year old fossilized winged queen ant, comparable in size to hummingbirds, was found in Wyoming. This fossil is the first fossil of a giant ant found in the Western Hemisphere. The presence of Titanomyrma in North America is considered to indicate "the first reported cross-Arctic dispersal by a thermophilic insect group". Another fossil species of this genus, T. gigantea, is the largest known fossil or extant species of giant ant in the world.

The fossil ant Titanomyrma lubei was discovered in ancient lake sediments in the DMNS locality 784, Farson Fish Beds, Laney Member of the Green River Formation; Sweetwater County, Wyoming, USA by Louis Lube, the collector and donor of the holotype specimen.

The fossil is part of the collection of Denver Museum of Nature and Science and was discovered by Bruce Archibald and co-author and museum chief curator Kirk R. Johnson while casually going through storage drawers. The fossil depicts the queen ant only and no fossils of workers have been found. With the discovery of Titanomyrma lubei and the description of the genus, two other species of giant ants, Formicium gigantea and Formicium simillima, were reclassified into this genus.

Well preserved fossils of Titanomyrma giganteum and Titanomyrma simillima were discovered in the Messel shales, near the village of Messel, in the state of Hesse, 30 km south of Frankfurt am Main (Darmstadt Administrative District), in Germany. A related undescribed species has been found in the nearby Eckfeld Maar.

The fossils of Titanomyrma gigantea, the first of the genus to be discovered, are very well preserved. They show that T. gigantea did not possess a sting and did not have a closing mechanism on the crop. It is surmised that it must have sprayed formic acid as a defence, and either ate fresh food, in the manner of leaf-cutter ants (which eat only the fungi they personally cultivate in their nests), or was carnivorous. Modern relatives include driver ants. Titanomyrma may have been a precursor species, possibly following a raiding lifestyle and butchering large animals.

Titanomyrma lubei is related to fossil giant ants previously found in Germany and in the Isle of Wight in southern England dating from the same period. It is the first complete giant ant fossil from North America; previous evidence that big ants lived in North America during the Eocene included an ancient ant wing from Tennessee. It is a further example, in the northern temperate regions, of tropical fauna and flora such as hippopotamus precursors, tropical plankton and pollen from tropical palms. Titanomyrma lubei supports the idea that during the Eocene (56 to 34 million years ago), conditions such as land bridges and hot spells existed which permitted the spread of ancient warmth-loving insects and other forms of life from Europe to North America or vice versa, which would not have occurred had the temperature been uniformly cool throughout.






The largest living ant in the world today is the Queen Driver Ant. Whilst the minions beneath her are just 5 millimeters in length and soldier ants are slightly bigger at 15 millimeters – the queen grows as long as 5 centimeters. The Bullet Ant can get up to 3 centimeters and the Bulldog Ant 4 centimeters.






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A giant prehistoric ant in a block of solid ice


FICTION - ANTARCTIC DISCOVERY - Scientists get very excited when they find an extinct species of giant insect in the Antarctic ice. Please note that this drawing is copyright © Jameson Hunter Ltd 2015. You will need permission from Jameson Hunter to be able to reproduce it. 


A prehistoric giant ant hatches from a frozen egg to create havoc  Scince fiction movie about giant mutated ants by Warner Brothers     Ant-Man the Marvel movie 2015 with Paul Rudd


LEFT - Movie idea, lurking beneath the Antarctic ice is a discovery that scientists will die for. This story is now the subject of a low budget trailer to be produced mostly in the UK. The promoters are looking for backers. The UK will contribute 20% toward production costs. Roughly 60% of a low budget film may be pre-sold as distribution rights, leaving 20% finance to source. The deal is that investors recover 120% on their project stake within 12 months of shooting, with an income stream thereafter from networks and merchandising. Producers and directors please take note that there is a significant audience for well made movies of this genre. Look at what happened when they remade Godzilla. MIDDLE L - 1954 Warner Brothers movie poster for "Them." The plots are completely different, but the idea is similar, save that there is a degree more plausibility in the scale - and we hope, the ants to be used in the film. MIDDLE R - 1977 film poster for Empire of the Ants, based on the H G Wells novel. RIGHT - 2015 movie from the Marvel graphic novels of the 1960-70s.














GIANT MECHANICAL ANT - Phineas and Ferb is an American animated comedy-musical television series. Originally broadcast as a one-episode preview on August 17, 2007. The series officially premiered on February 1, 2008 on Disney Channel, and follows Phineas Flynn and his English stepbrother Ferb Fletcher on summer vacation. Every day, the boys embark on some grand new project, which annoys their controlling sister, Candace, who frequently tries to reveal their shenanigans to her and Phineas' mother, Linda Flynn-Fletcher, and less frequently to Ferb's father, Lawrence Fletcher. The series follows a standard plot system; running gags occur every episode, and the b-plot almost always features Perry the Platypus working as a spy ("Agent P") for OWCA (the Organization Without a Cool Acronym), to defeat the latest scheme of Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, a mad scientist driven largely by a need to assert his evilness. Sometimes, other villains scoff at his level of evil. The two plots intersect at the end to erase all traces of the boys' project just before Candace can show it to their mother. 






This website is Copyright © 2020 Bluebird Marine Systems Limited.   The names Bluebird™, Bluefish™, Miss Ocean™, SeaNet™, SeaVax™ are trademarks. All other trademarks are hereby acknowledged. The design of the Robot Ant on this page is design copyright © December 15 2015, all rights reserved - Jameson Hunter Ltd. IMPORTANT NOTE:  Under no circumstances may our products, or those of Jameson Hunter Ltd be used by any military or law enforcement organization, for any warlike, combat, or peacekeeping crowd control purposes. Anyone purchasing one of these units will be required to sign a binding undertaking (Deed) to that effect. Any unit found to have been purchased by proxy, will be confiscated, along with civil remedy in respect of breach of contract, that all parties in the chain will be vicariously liable for - to include damages for vehicles developed from our designs without our consent - and possible fraud issue from the deception. In addition to copyright theft, the law of passing-off applies.