THE UNITED STATES military may be obtaining a dog-like quadruped robot armed with a sniper rifle.
The robot, produced by Ghost Robotics of Philadelphia, is a fresh version of its Vision series of legged robots. The US Air Force is currently testing an unarmed version of the robots for use as perimeter security at the Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
Ghost Robotics displayed the armed version at the total annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army held in Washington DC this week. The robot is fitted with a particular Purpose Unmanned Rifle pod from Sword Defense, with a powerful 6.5mm sniper rifle. It has night and day cameras and an effective range of 1200 metres.
Ghost Robotics has been developing quadruped robots since 2015 and has previously displayed versions fitted with additions including arms for bomb disposal and a disruptor, a shotgun-like device for disabling bombs.
The robots are highly mobile, in a position to cross rugged terrain that might be difficult for wheeled and tracked machines, and can operate with a higher degree of autonomy. For example, the perimeter patrol robots can follow a pre-set route, deviating where essential to avoid obstacles, and alerting a human operator when they encounter something unexpected like a possible intruder.
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However, Ghost Robotics CEO Jiren Parikh is quick to dismiss any ideas that the sniper rifle is an autonomous weapon system.
“It really is fully managed by a remote operator,” says Parikh. “There exists a human controlling the weapon, there is no autonomy or AI.”
He says that the robot was chosen by customers because of its ability to move around in difficult terrain, allowing it to take up the right firing position for sniper shots. This applies equally outdoors and in urban settings where, for instance, it could climb stairs. Meanwhile, the operator can stay concealed from the type of fire.
Quadruped robots, which are able to move about inside buildings and other human spaces, are increasingly causing disquiet. In April this season, the brand new York Police Department terminated its Digidog programme for an unarmed quadruped robot after protests from critics including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Police make use of similar robots dogs in Honolulu has been equally controversial.
Parikh notes that while there were numerous other uncrewed tracked and wheeled vehicles with weapons at the same show, his has been designated for attention. He shows that the legged robot triggers an emotional reaction because it looks like an animal, and as a result of decades of science fiction movies about dangerous robots.
Pentagon policy is that robotic weapons ought to be under the control of a human operator. However, the technology for small drones to choose and attack targets autonomously was already developed and may curently have been found in Libya.
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