Several robotics firms, notably Boston Dynamics, the company behind the well-known quadruped robot Spot, have vowed not to militarise their most sophisticated robots.
The firms stated in an open letter to the whole robotics industry that they “think that putting weapons to robots that are remotely or autonomously operated… creates additional dangers of harm and serious ethical considerations.” This was first reported by Axios.
The following companies signed the letter: Boston Dynamics, Agility Robotics, ANYbotics, Clearpath Robotics, Open Robotics, and Unitree Robotics. “We pledge that we will not weaponize our advanced-mobility general-purpose robots or the software we develop that enables advanced robotics and we will not support others to do so,” the signatories state.
The letter comes as concerns regarding the use of a new breed of highly mobile, autonomous robots by armies and law enforcement have grown. These include bipedal robots and quadrupedal robots (made by companies like Unitree, ANYbotics, and Boston Dynamics) (like the Digit robot, built by Agility Robotics).
The company Boston Dynamics, which is owned by Hyundai, has drawn particular attention since it created Spot, the most well-known quadrupedal robot.
The French military and police forces, notably the NYPD, have both tried out the company’s robots without success. Both times, human beings operated the robots remotely while they were being employed for reconnaissance rather than as weapons.
Notably, the US military provided money for practically all of Boston Dynamics’ early development. The US Army reasoned that it could employ the company’s experimental, larger robots as pack mules to carry infantry units’ supplies. However, due to the machines’ excessive noise, they abandoned their research and switched Boston Dynamics to commercial sales.
The US Space Force, US Air Force, and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are all testing the company’s bots to monitor bases and the US border with Mexico.
Jiren Parikh, the CEO of Ghost Robotics, has stated that the company never tries to limit customers’ usage, despite the fact that Ghost Robotics’ machines have also been equipped with firearms by arms manufacturers.
This indicates that even though Boston Dynamics and the other signatories to this week’s letter may have blocked one route to robot weaponization, it’s unlikely that this will have an impact on the technology’s widespread adoption.