India Origin CEO Jiren Parikh of Ghost Robotics is putting guns on robot dogs now
Quadrupedal robots are one of the most intriguing robotics advancements in recent years. They’re tiny, agile, and can get about in places that wheeled equipment can’t. It was just a matter of time until someone strapped a pistol to one of them.
The image above depicts a quadrupedal robot — a Ghost Robotics Vision 60 unit — that has been fitted with a bespoke rifle by Sword International, a small-arms expert. The gun, called the SPUR (short for “special purpose unmanned rifle”), appears to be meant to be mounted on a variety of robotic platforms. It includes a 30x optical zoom, a thermal camera for nighttime aiming, and a 1,200-meter effective range.
It’s unclear whether Sword International or Ghost Robotics are presently offering this pistol and robot combo. But, if they aren’t already, it appears that they will be short. “The SWORD Defense Systems SPUR is the future of autonomous weapon systems, and that future is today,” says the marketing material on Sword’s website.
The gadget was unveiled for the first time earlier this week at the Association of the United States Army’s 2021 annual conference. The conference is billed as a “land power exposition and professional development forum,” and it will take place in Washington, DC, from October 11 to 13.
The relationship between Ghost and Sword is still a mystery, but the US military is already testing Ghost’s quadrupedal robots. Last year, the 325th Security Forces Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida became the first unit in the Department of Defense to conduct regular operations with quadrupedal robots. According to an interview with Ghost Robotics CEO Jiren Parikh, they are used to patrol the base’s perimeter, crossing marshy regions that “aren’t ideal for human beings and vehicles.”
Despite the fact that reconnaissance is one of the most apparent applications for robot dogs, manufacturers are gradually experimenting with different payloads. The devices may be deployed as mobile cell towers, to disarm explosives, or to detect chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials, in addition to providing remote video and mapping (otherwise known as CBRN).
And, of course, they can be turned into weapons.
Boston Dynamics, the most well-known quadrupedal robot firm and creator of Spot, has a stringent policy against weaponizing its devices. Other manufacturers don’t appear to be as fussy. After all, several firms currently provide unmanned gun platforms with tank treads or wheels, so adding the same basic equipment to legged robots shouldn’t be too difficult.
The more pressing concern is how these robots will be deployed in the future, as well as what amount of control would be necessary if they begin firing fatal bullets at people.
Experts have been warning for some time about the gradual growth in the employment of “killer robots” (officially known as lethal autonomous weapon systems, or LAWS), and US policy does not ban their research or deployment. Many groups are advocating for a blanket ban on such systems, but it appears that corporations will continue to construct what is possible in the interim. And that means arming robot dogs with weapons.