How a lizard-like robot could help the Navy ‘prevent catastrophes’: decorated veteran

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A lizard-like robot and other devices relying on artificial intelligence could soon be major military game changers, according to a defense expert investing in the tech. 

The devices include a drone that can operate even in warzones with jammed communications, an AI system that can serve as a pilot and a robot capable of identifying weak spots in some equipment, including Navy vessels, according to Snowpoint Ventures co-founder Doug Philippone.

“The critical thing of moving forward in the threats that we see around the world, we have to be able to make decisions really quickly and do something about it as fast as possible,” said Philippone, who’s also served as Palantir Technologies’ global defense head since 2008.

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One company within Philippone’s portfolio is Shield AI, which created the V-BAT, a fully autonomous drone capable of vertical take-off and staying airborne for 10 hours. But the major draw, Philippone said, is that it can still complete its missions and return home even if communications are severed, such as in battle zones like Ukraine.

“Securing boarders, hunting drugs, finding threats,” Shield AI states. “The most tactical, most logistically simple [unmanned aircraft system] in the world.”

A second firm, Merlin Labs, meanwhile, has developed AI capable of serving as a second pilot for cargo aircraft — though Philippone stressed that it wasn’t pursuing use in commercial flying.

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Shield AI’s V-BAT can complete its mission and return home, all without GPS or functioning communications. (Courtesy of Shield AI)

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“The Merlin Pilot is capable of navigating and recommending trajectory adjustments as needed” and can communicate directly with air traffic control, Merlin Labs’ website states.

“They’re years into the certification process,” Philippone told Fox News. “And in the meantime, they’ve been working with the U.S. military as well.”

He said the tech could be used to help fill gaps from any pilot shortages.

Merlin Labs AI plane

Merlin Labs is aiming to get an AI system certified as a second pilot to fly cargo planes, according to venture capitalist Doug Philippone. (Courtesy of Merlin Labs)

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Gecko Robotics, meanwhile, “invented these crazy robots that climb and scale” infrastructure “like a gecko lizard” and make a digital copy, Philippone said.

“Using advanced AI techniques, they can now detect exactly where these things will fail,” he continued. “You can prevent catastrophes. You can do smart maintenance.”

“Our robots collect 1,000x more information with continuous data capture at speeds an average of 10x faster than previous methods,” Gecko’s website boasts. “Using specially-designed sensor payloads, the robots can inspect wall thickness, pitting, and many other forms of degradation.”

AI-powered robot for infrastructure

Gecko Robotics developed devices that can crawl over infrastructure in order to identify and predict weak points. (Courtesy of Gecko Robotics)

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The Navy, in particular, could benefit from Gecko since it would allow more targeted maintenance rather than replacing entire portions that officials aren’t even certain need repair, according to Philippone.

“It ends up being really expensive for no particular reason,” he said. “They don’t actually know that that panel needs to be replaced.”

Still, Philippone emphasized that these devices are only one part of the equation. Humans must still be the ones call the shots, he said.

“All of this technology should assist humans in making decisions, not make the decisions for them,” Philippone told Fox News. “I firmly believe that you need a human to do that to really encapsulate the risks of those decisions.”

Ramiro Vargas contributed to the accompanying video.

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