Because We Really Need Corpse-eating Robots

A TS-VFX-00793 Harvester robot from "Terminator: Salvation" chews up some scenery. Meanwhile, somewhere in Japan, a fictional robot is falling in love. (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Maybe it's a cultural thing. In Japan, scientists are always making the news for their latest robot designed to cook your dinner, dance or be your friend. Over here in the states, we're more about unleashing packs of steam-powered, mechanical ghouls to feast on the bloated corpses of our fallen enemies. Man, we've got issues.

Yep, according to Fox News, Maryland's Robot Technology Inc., has a Pentagon contract to develop its Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot. Let us, as a nation, collectively groan at the "EATR" acronym.

I hope everyone will forgive the fantastic illustration I went with for this post, but the actual robot isn't all that flashy looking. What we're dealing with here is a simple wheeled, robotic platform. Sure, it could theoretically be used to tow weapons, but it could just as easily be a surveillance station or mobile hospital.

The EATR is powered by a waste heat engine, which burns fuel to heat water and produce electricity via steam technology. Ah, but what's really interesting is where that fuel comes from.

EATR can apparently guzzle down traditional fuels, but it can also scavenge for biomass. Obviously, this covers a lot more ground than just corpse munching: live vegetation, decaying plant matter, etc. But seriously, you don't design a warbot named EATR without expecting to attract some ghastly headlines. The technology itself isn't anything new. The University of the West of England's Bristol Robotics Laboratory has studied the idea of robot predators for more than a decade, designing bots to feed on slugs, flies and plankton.

As for the issue of robotic armies (corpse eating or otherwise), it brings to mind two additional pieces of media. First, here's a cool TED Talk on the United States' increasing use of robotic military components. And second, in pondering Japan's cute robots and our terrifying ones, I can't help but think of the following line from J.M. Coetzee's "Waiting for the Barbarians."

"One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era. By day it pursues its enemies. It is cunning and ruthless, it sends its bloodhounds everywhere. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation."

Japan's Partner-type Personal Robot (or PaPeRo!), however, is beyond reproach.

Thanks to HSW's Rob Sheppe for bringing the Fox News story to my attention!

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About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.