WASHINGTON - US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel got a first-hand look at a life-size robot Tuesday that resembles Hollywood's "Terminator," the latest experiment by the Pentagon's hi-tech researchers.
But unlike the cinematic version, the hulking Atlas robot is designed not as a warrior but as a humanitarian machine that would rescue victims in the rubble of a natural disaster, officials said.
The 6-foot-2-inch (187 centimeters) Atlas is one of the entrants in a contest designed to produce a man-like life-saver machine, the brainchild of the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The competition, which will require the bots to navigate rough terrain and enter buildings, was created in the aftermath of Japan's Fukushima quake and tsunami disasters.
DARPA, the Pentagon's research arm known for futuristic projects often evoking science fiction, showed off the Atlas robot to Hagel, but except for LED lighting, the humanoid was apparently switched off on a "static" display.
Brad Tousley, head of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, told Hagel that Hollywood has created unrealistic expectations of what real robots can do.
Building robots that can climb ladders, open doors and carry objects requires daunting feats of engineering and computer science, he said.
Scientists also showed Hagel the latest technology for prosthetics, including a mechanical hand that responds to brain impulses and a prosthetic arm controled by foot movements.
A wounded veteran who once worked with Hagel in the 1980s demonstrated one of the devices, giving the Pentagon chief a thumbs up with his prosthetic left arm.
"It's the first time in 45 years, since Vietnam, I'm able to use my left hand...," said Fred Downs, who lost his limb in a landmine explosion during the war.