And the prospect of weaponised robot dogs turning on and killings humans was brought to discomforting life in the 2017 Black Mirror episode ‘Metalhead’.
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A robot dog design armed with a 6.5 mm Creedmoor sniper rifle (pictured) capable of precisely hitting targets from 3,940 feet away has been unveiled at the US Army trade show
The arming of robots with SPUR — while arguably an inevitable development not that distinct from other unmanned weapons — is still likely to stir controversy. The prospect of robot dogs turning on and killings humans was brought to discomforting life a 2017 Black Mirror episode
SPOT IS A ‘PACIFICST’
While SPUR might be straining at the leash to join the battlefield, Ghost Robotics’ better-known rival, Boston Dynamics, have said that they condemn any application of their Spot dog that even appears to promote ‘violence, harm or intimidation.’
The firm made the comments back in February, after New York-based start-up MSCHF (pronounced ‘mischief’) mounted a Spot machine with a paintball gun and let the public use it to shoot up an art gallery.
Nevertheless, Boston Dynamics’ does not appear to have the same concerns around policing and enforcement applications — with Spot already being used as a pair of remote eyes in hazardous situations and to patrol parks in Singapore during COVID-19.
‘Due to its highly capable sensors, the SPUR can operate in a magnitude of conditions, both day and night,’ the developers announced at the army trade show.
‘The SWORD Defense Systems SPUR is the future of unmanned weapons system — and that future is now,’ they added.
An advantage to giving an armed robot a four-footed design like SPUR’s comes from the stability this quadrupedal arrangement offers.
‘When our robots move around and you shove them, these forces are computed at 2,000 calculations per second per leg,’ Ghost Robotics CEO and founder Jiren Parikh told The War Zone last year.
Mr Parikh went on to explain that his firm are working to ensure that their robots are able to continue to function even if some of their onboard sensors fail.
‘We’re adjusting it to make it like a mammal. Our robot, when you see it climbing stairs or walking or running around, we turn off all the sensors,” he said.
‘It’s just feeling. It’s completely blind. The reason we do that is because if a warfighter or a mining company — if anybody is using our robot — [it] had better operate 99.99% of the time.’
In a similar vein, the SPUR module appears to be equipped with its own sighting system on top to allow operators to aim at the rifle’s chosen target.
The ‘Special Purpose Unmanned Rifle’ (SPUR, pictured) is the brainchild of Philadelphia-based Ghost Robotics and arms manufacturer SWORD International of Sparks, Nevada
Placed on top of one of Ghost Robotics’ existing ‘quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicle’ designs, SPUR can be remotely instructed to load, unload and fire its rifle
The US Air Force has reportedly expressed an interest in the possibility of operating robot dogs remotely from central command facilities by means of interfaces similar in design to commercial virtual reality headsets.
Officers are looking to use the machines for perimeter security, scouting and urban warfare operations — as well as opening up access to spaces that might be too small, tight or dangerous for a human soldier to safely navigate into.
Ghost Robotics is no stranger to collaboration looking to explore potential defence and security applications of their bots — and is engaged in partnerships with firms including defence contractor Honeywell and the ARES Security Corporation.
Reaction on Twitter to the unveiling of the SPUR-equipped robots was mixed — but with more concern than endorsement.
‘Black Mirror is a cautionary series, not a blueprint for the future,’ wrote Kate Paul Dillon on the social media platform.
Other users said that the robot would make a good ‘doggo’ for the murderous robots from the Terminator sci-fi franchise.
The Association of the United States Army’s 2021 Annual Meeting and Exposition was held at the Washington Convention Center, Washington DC, from October 11–13.