The rather beautiful looks of the robot in this image hide the fact that in reality it would be part of a swarm of military bots designed to creep into caves, bunkers and other hostile areas to grab intel on the baddies hiding within. Yes: it sounds like Minority Report, Dr Who and Robot Wars all rolled into one. And yes: it might just end up as a real machine, since BAE Systems has just been awarded US$38 million by the Army Research Lab to head up the Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology project to develop the technology. The promotional video gives us a few more clues, despite its game-like looks, and if you don't like spiders then the image of one of the other potential drone bots will surely give you the heebyjeebies.
And here's one of those spiders in more detail:
The intention is that the consortium led by BAE will perform research into developing an "autonomous, multifunctional collection of miniature intelligence-gathering robots" which will operate in places "too inaccessible or dangerous for humans." So, soldiers in the field would be able to deploy the bots and gain a tactical advantage in dangerous situations, or potentially gather evidence they wouldn't have been able to previously. The University of Michigan, the University of Maryland and the University of Pennsylvania are partners too, along with University of California at Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory among others.
Don't expect the robots to be a reality any time soon though, as all these science and engineering teams face an extraordinary number of scientific and technical obstacles to be overcome. Things like small-scale aeromechanics, propulsion, sensors, navigation and ambulation. Only then will the little flapping, crawling insect-things be possible, though part of me hopes the leaping spider thing never gets made— it's just too nasty for words. [BAE Systems via Danger room]