For decades the Marine Corps in Bridgeport, California has taught soldiers how to handle and use mules. Mules have been used in practically every military engagement since the Civil War and most recently in Afghanistan. A mule’s ability to carry equipment and supplies is legendary.
It has the size and agility of a horse but is stronger, has untiring stamina, and requires less food. A mule can carry four hundred pounds (181 kgs) of gear, seven hours a day, for three weeks, through rough terrain. The military refers to mules as a “force multiplier” because they can triple the effectiveness of a troop by reducing the weight carried by soldiers. Less weight means less physical strain and fatigue.
Over the years, the military has relied less on mules and more on Jeeps and Humvees but these vehicles can’t be used in rugged mountainous regions like Afghanistan. Mules are still used in these areas to carry everything from anti-tank rockets and anti-aircraft missiles to body armor, boots and bullets. But mules can get sick and they require trained handlers.
So DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) contracted the robotics design company, Boston Dynamics, to develop a military robot to replace the mule. The Legged Squad Support System (LS3) is intended to carry supplies through the same terrain as ground troops – just like mules. The LS3 is capable of interacting with humans and can understand verbal and visual commands. The four-legged robot can lie down, stand up, walk or run.
Robots may seem dangerous not only to cinema action heroes but also to the average manufacturing worker. To assess whether such concerns are well founded, Guy Michaels and Georg Graetz analyse the labour market effects of industrial robots, which have been widely adopted in the past 25 years. Robots’ capacity for autonomous movement and their ability to perform an expanding set of tasks have captured writers’ imaginations for almost a century. Recently, robots have emerged from the pages of science fiction novels into the real world, and discussions of their possible economic effects have become ubiquitous. But a serious problem inhibits these discussions: to date, there has been no systematic empirical analysis of the economic effects that robots are already having. Our research begins to remedy this problem. We have compiled a new dataset spanning 14 industries (mainly manufacturing industries, but also agriculture and utilities) in 17 developed countries (including Australia, European countries, South Korea and the United States). Uniquely, our dataset includes a measure of the industrial robots employed in each industry in each of these countries, and how it has changed between 1993 and 2007. We obtain information on workers’ hours and other economic indicators from the EU KLEMS database.
- Edna Mae Buniel