I learned just how dangerous explosives manufacture can be back in the early 1960s when my best friend nearly took off his left hand while mixing a batch of black powder. He liked to blow things up, but, being in his early teens, he had limited access to regularly manufactured explosives. So, he hunted around in my library for a formula for black powder.
He failed, however, to take to heart the long paragraphs in my volume of Fortunes in Formulas that explained why gunpowder was to be mixed in specially-designed buildings with strengthened walls and weakened roofs that would safely direct the blast upward in the event of an accident. He demonstrated his knack for doing dumb things by showing me how he used a mortar and pestle to mix his ingredients! I yelled back at him–from a safe distance–that he was doing the stupidest thing possible, and begged him to follow the directions (use a glass rod in a copper container from behind a shield, as I recall). He didn’t listen, and a few days later found himself in the hospital having his hand sewn back together.
Handling explosives has been arguably one of the most dangerous activities known to man since the Chinese invented gunpowder way back when. The Parthenon, perhaps the most important building left from the Golden Age of Ancient Greece, no longer has a roof because some brilliant generals in the Ottoman Empire decided to store gunpowder in the thing. Some 600 people got vaporized in that fiasco!
So, I hereby nominate Explosives Manufacturing as the poster child for the Three Ds of Robotics. Happily, I’m not alone in that assessment. In two separate reports recently, news has reached my desk that a major Chinese firm specializing in building explosives-manufacturing facilities has decided to upgrade over 100 installations with parallel robots from Adept Technology; and iRobot won a $30 million contract from the U.S. Army’s Robotic Systems Joint Program Office (RSJPO) for PackBot FasTac robotic systems to be used for bomb disposal and other dangerous missions by troops and first responders.
C.G. Masi has been blogging about technology and society since 2006. In a career spanning more than a quarter century, he has written more than 400 articles for scholarly and technical journals, and six novels dealing with automation’s place in technically advanced society. For more information, visit www.cgmasi.com.