Let’s talk about tying guns to the backs of the robots. I’m not a fan (how’s that about taking a stand?). When MSCHF did it with Spot in February, it was a thought experiment, an art exhibition, and a statement on where society could go with autonomous robotics. And the most important, of course, was a paintball gun. Boston Dynamics was clearly not thrilled with the message he was sending, noting:
Today we learn that an art group is planning a show to draw attention to a provocative use of our industrial robot, Spot. To be clear, we condemn portraying our technology in any way that promotes violence, harm, or intimidation.
It is precisely the kind of thing that the company tries to cope with. After decades of killer robot sci-fi, it doesn’t take much for people to jump every time an advanced robot enters the scene. It is the automaton version of Rule 34 (in firm defiance of Asimov’s First Law of Robotics): if there is a robot, someone has tried to turn it into a weapon.
As I said in this column, I’m glad we’re having these conversations now, and I’m glad people are skeptical when the NYPD unveils a branded version of Spot. I also think it’s important to note, for example, that police departments have been using robots for years to perform dangerous tasks like bomb detection. Most of us would probably agree that saving people from the explosion is a good use for a robot.
I’m glad Boston Dynamics continues to voice its opposition to using the robot to do harm (what constitutes intimidation, when it comes to headless quadruped robots, is another conversation altogether). The creators of Spot, along with a wide swath of the robotics industry, endeavored on projects funded by DARPA. I’d say there’s a pretty big gulf between building a robotic pack mule and a mobile weapon, but this is precisely the kind of thing you need to turn it into a mission statement.
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For this Ghost Robotics dog on display at the US Army Association convention in DC this week, I’d say bullying is probably the best case. I’ll let the rifle’s manufacturer, SWORD Defense Systems, speak for itself here:
SWORD Defense Systems (SPUR) special purpose unmanned rifle was specifically designed to deliver precision fire from unmanned platforms such as the Ghost Robotics Vision-60 quadruped. With safety, chamber, clearing and firing capabilities that allow safe and reliable deployment of the weapon system, giving the operator the ability to load and secure the weapon from a distance.
If that doesn’t send a chill down your spine, I don’t know what to tell you. Is it ethically that far removed from the attack drones that the military has been using for bombing campaigns for decades? Potentially not. But I’m not a fan of drone strikes either.
Certainly, Ghost Robotics cannot be accused of hiding its military connection. A solid ride with the Ghost Vision system is the first thing you see when you visit the company’s site. Regardless of how you feel about the Defense Department budget, historically defense funding has been a big part of keeping robotics companies afloat, long before venture capitalists pumped money into the category. The Ghost site divides things accordingly into defense, homeland, and business. A recent highly publicized 5G deal with Verizon it falls into the latter.
Recent coverage has highlighted the use of robotic dogs to patrol war zones, not unlike Spot’s functionality in that case. But mounting a weapon on the robot changes the math here considerably. There are a lot of questions – I contacted Ghost Robotics with some preliminaries. But surely this isn’t the last we’ll hear about this setup.
In news about unmanned rifles, Dexterity continues to cause a sensation with another huge increase. Just over a year after exiting stealth with $ 56.2 million, the Bay Area-based firm is clearly surprising while the iron is hot, as interest in automated compliance has exploded during the pandemic. Four years after launch, it just raised another $ 140 million with a valuation of $ 1.4 billion.
The company has been running its systems in the real world for two years, moving a wide range of different objects, including, “loose packed deformable poly bags, delicate hot dog buns, flexible tortillas, poorly sealed cardboard boxes, etc.” . bags of earthworms, trays and drawers of consumer food, even a melted birthday cake. ” Dexterity plans to use the money to continue the deployment of its first 1,000 robots.
Closing out this week is the Yanmar YV01, an autonomous spraying robot designed specifically for vineyards.
“YV01 offers state-of-the-art autonomous technology and is flexible, lightweight and environmentally friendly as it ensures high precision spraying on the vines,” Yanmar Europe President Peter Aarsen said in a statement. “It can be operated safely and easily by a close supervisor and is ideal for vineyards that have narrow paths and where the vines are not tall.”
Currently being tested in (where else) Champagne producing Épernay, France, the system will go on sale next year.