There's definitely something unsettling about the way the wire-riddled Pet-Proto robot—a predecessor to DARPA's Atlas robot—shakily clambers over hurdles, with its arms propped up against the walls to keep it balanced. You can almost see our doom glinting softly in his red lights.
If that's not enough to send a shiver down your spine, here's something that will. According to the description on DARPA's YouTube video, the PET-PROTO is capable of autonomous decision-making when it comes to things like how best to overcome environmental hazards. Eek.
What makes this all so frightening, though, is probably the fact that we can expect more of the same. Participants in the upcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) will be expected to make robots capable of overcoming similar challenges. Though it's ostensibly a way to promote "innovation in robotic technology for disaster-response operations," the primary technical goal of the DRC is to "develop ground robots capable of executing complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments."
It gets even better (or scarier, depending on how you want to look at it), naturally. According to DARPA, competitors in the DRC are expected to make robots capable of handling "standard tools and equipment commonly available in human environments." In other words, we're looking at the possibility of legions of robots that can utilize vehicles and wave chainsaws at you.
Sadly, if you were hoping to see our robot overseers sometime soon, you're fresh out of luck. We probably won't be seeing the finished results before the last part of next year.