The Pentagon is funding a company called Robotic Technology, whose main project is developing an autonomous robot called EATR that fuels itself on "biomass." This biomass could include vegetation, paper, and even corpses on the battlefield.
EATR stands for "Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot," referring to the way this robot will forage for its own power sources rather than having to return to base and power up.
Though the EATR is still in the experimental stage, Robotic Technology has high hopes for the robot. In a project spec, company representatives describe EATR as:
An autonomous robotic platform able to perform long-range, long-endurance missions without the need for manual or conventional re-fueling, which would otherwise preclude the ability of the robot to perform such missions. The system obtains its energy by foraging – engaging in biologically-inspired, organism-like, energy-harvesting behavior which is the equivalent of eating. It can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable. For example, about 150 lbs of vegetation could provide sufficient energy for 100 miles of driving, depending on circumstances.
Of course there are no explicit mentions made of dead bodies here - FOX News came up with that meme - but "biomass" could include organic matter like dead animals. Though breaking down plant matter into fuel is a slightly different proposition than breaking down rotting corpses.
Still, there is another potential reason why the EATR could turn to corpse-gnawing. It is going to learn from its environment using a form of artificial intelligence, and figure out what is good to eat. The founder of Robotic Technology, Robert Finkelstein, has described the kind of artificial collective intelligence he hopes to imbue the EATRs with:
The 4D/RCS is a framework in which sensors, sensor processing, databases, computer models, and machine controls may be linked and operated such that the system behaves as if it were intelligent. It can provide a system with several types of intelligence (where intelligence is the ability to make an appropriate choice or decision), including reactive, deliberative, and creative intelligence . . . We are experimenting with a unique approach to achieving swarm behavior and distributed artificial intelligence by partitioning the 4D/RCS among individuals in the collective. In the concept of the Cognitive Collective, THE 4D/RCS is partitioned among multiple robotic vehicles and then reassembled across the collective. This allows robots which are individually reactive with limited intelligence to become deliberative and cognitive within the collective; or robots which are individually deliberative to gain greater intelligence and efficacy within the collective.
This kind of "collective intelligence" is similar to what AI enthusiasts also imagine might emerge from something like Google, which has vast, distributed computing power.
Are we looking at the beginnings of a human-eating, artificially intelligent robot swarm? Possibly. Or we might just be looking at a bunch of dumb, programmable vegetarians who don't need to dock in order to stay powered up.