The Army's FireScout robotic helicopter passed its engine tests today, marking another step on the road for the US armed forces to move away from the sort-of-cute "RC car with a big gun" school of military robotics to the sort-of-terrifying "Skynet becomes self-aware at 2:14 A.M., August 29th" school of deathbots. The robochopper, based on the commercially-available Schweizer 333 helicopter, can stay in the air for eight hours autonomously (five with a weapons payload) and has successfully landed itself on warships at sea. The Navy is considering deploying up to 200 of these things beginning in 2008, and the Army is interested in variants for work in Iraq -- the bird can be towed behind a Humvee and used to scout for explosives. No mention of who gets authority to fire the optional Hellfire missiles, but let's hope that decision stays with the humans for a while longer.

[Via The Register]

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