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It is difficult to find a figure for the exact percentage of robotics research that is currently funded by the military. However, it is clear that military organizations and budgets fund a significant amount of and perhaps even most robotics research today. Recent technological progress, which has greatly increased the number of roles that it is plausible for robots to undertake; the potential for robots to help keep soldiers out of harm's way, and the perceived success of the U.S.'s Predator and Reaper drones in Afghanistan, have led to a massive influx of funding from governments all around the world for research on military robots. Consequently, large numbers of engineers at universities, in industry, and in military research laboratories are working to develop and perfect the technologies for the next generation of unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles, unmanned surface vehicles, and unmanned submersibles. In many ways, this military funding is like a drug for roboticists: constantly available, tempting to try, habit-forming, and hard to kick. Like drugs, funding from the military becomes more attractive still when times are hard and other sources of meaningful employment become scarce. Most importantly, like (some) drugs, military funding is bad for the moral and psychological health of those who grow to rely upon it.
Date of Publication: Spring 2012