Magazine article American Journalism Review

This Reporter's a News Machine. (Free Press)

Magazine article American Journalism Review

This Reporter's a News Machine. (Free Press)

Article excerpt

The Afghan people may think they've seen every sort of foreign journalist on the planet, but they might be about to meet a reporter like no other. This war correspondent is a cute little robot with a long neck, tiny Mickey Mouse ears and a tail with a peace sign tacked to it.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab developed the Afghan Explorer to gather information in war zones and other regions off-limits to people reporters. It will beam back pictures and sounds from places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, says inventor Chris Csikszentmihalyi.

For Csikszentmihalyi, the Explorer is a political statement. He says that physical danger and too much restriction by the United States' military have led to "a progressive decline of human mobility for reporters" in war zones. "The First Amendment has stopped working," he laments. So, he hopes his invention will get people the information they are missing.

Modeled after the Mars Pathfinder, the $10,000 Explorer is a combination of advanced technology and off-the-shelf hardware. It moves on all-terrain-vehicle wheels. It has a computer screen for a head that can project an interviewer's face and a two-way microphone for interviewing and sound recording.

And the Explorer's cute look is no accident--it's a protective device. "The point was to make it immune to law enforcement," he says. "No one will incarcerate it, it's so cute." As for when the Explorer will get a test drive, Csikszentmihalyi is purposely vague, saying, "particular people don't want to see this thing out there. …

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