Royal Navy Unveils Robot Spy Speedboat 

The 34ft boat can skim across the waves at more than 50kts to track high speed targets, while navigating and dodging other ships without the control of a human.

Naval commanders believe the Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed (MAST) could herald a robot fleet of high-speed craft packed with sensors to carry out spy and scouting missions.

The unarmed test craft is one of 40 prototypes to be tested by the Royal Navy in a major robot war game off the coast of northern Scotland in October.

The dawn of unmanned vehicles is likely to have the same revolutionary effect on naval warfare as the birth of flight and aircraft carriers, according to the navy’s Fleet Robotics Officer.

Cdr Peter Pipkin said: “This is a chance to take a great leap forward in maritime systems – not to take people out of the loop but to enhance everything they do, to extend our reach, our look, our timescales, our efficiency using intelligent and manageable robotics at sea.”

MAST has been built for the MoD’s defence laboratories and is based on an existing Bladerunner speedboat, but fitted with sensors and robotic technology that is still largely classified.

The boat has a sophisticated anti-collision system to avoid hazards and other craft, but current laws meant that when it was unveiled on the Thames, it had to have a human coxswain on board.

While the MAST is only a test platform for new technology and will not enter service as it stands, sources said it could it pave the way for future robots vessels that can track, shadow or spy on other craft as well as loitering off coastlines.

Elizabeth Quintana, director of military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute, said the Navy was looking at unmanned vehicles to take on “dull, dirty, and dangerous” jobs.  Read the rest of this entry »

Magna Carta Originals Reunited for 800th Anniversary


The four surviving original Magna Carta copies go on display together for the first time from Monday as Britain kicks off 800th anniversary celebrations for a contract with global significance.

Considered the cornerstone of liberty, modern democracy, justice and the rule of law, the 1215 English charter forms the basis for legal systems around the world, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the US constitution.

A total of 1,215 people, drawn from a ballot, have won the chance to see the unification at the British Library, which is bringing together its two originals with those of Lincoln and Salisbury cathedrals from Monday to Wednesday.

The four parchments will also be on private show in parliament on Thursday, kicking off a year of celebrations for a document that still has resonance eight centuries on. Read more.

Rise of the Robot Security Guards


Knightscope is preparing to roll out human-size robot patrols

Rachel Metz reports: As the sun set on a warm November afternoon, a quartet of five-foot-tall, 300-pound shiny white robots patrolled in front of Building 1 on Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus. Looking like a crew of slick Daleks imbued with the grace of Fred Astaire, they whirred quietly knightscopex299across the concrete in different directions, stopping and turning in place so as to avoid running into trash cans, walls, and other obstacles.

The robots managed to appear both cute and intimidating. This friendly-but-not-too-friendly presence is meant to serve them well in jobs like monitoring corporate and college campuses, shopping malls, and schools.

Knightscope, a startup based in Mountain View, California, has been busy designing, building, and testing the robot, known as the K5, since 2013. Seven have been built so far, and the company plans to deploy four before the end of the year at an as-yet-unnamed technology company in the area. The robots are designed to detect anomalous behavior, such as someone walking through a building at night, and report back to a remote security center. Read the rest of this entry »

Archaeologists Launch Crowdfunding Project to Discover Story of London’s Lost Waterways


At least 88 stop-off points follow the River Thames. Originally a kind of bus and tube stop system in the late 16th century, when 2,000 river taxis coasted for hire, the number had increased to 15,000 by 1725.

[Visit the Crowdfunding page to take part]

Aiming to reveal more, a team of archaeologists are aiming to raise at least £3,000 (the maximum is£5,000) for a year-long investigation into these visible reminders of a transport system 300 years ago.v0_master

The Thames stairs© Wikimedia Commons

“One of the projects we’re really interested in is the story of river stairs,” says Gustav Milne, of University College London’s Institute of Archaeology.

“We’d like to mount a major survey on the Thames foreshore looking at the remains of these river stairs, develop a major image gallery of what we’ve got and record the timbers and so forth that still survive.”

“So many of them have been lost to redevelopment, so we’re trying to rediscover them to put London’s ancient waterman’s bus stops back on the map.” Read the rest of this entry »