French Army Deploys Boston Dynamics’ Robot Dog For Two Days Without Them Knowing
The French army surprised US firm Boston Dynamics by using its robot dog during a two-day military training exercise without the company’s knowledge.
Having been given the name Spot due to its dog-like appearance, the robot has four legs, cameras and can be remote controlled, and has previously been used to survey environments such as construction sites, factories and underground mines.
Images shared on Twitter by France’s foremost military school, the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, showed the yellow, mechanical dog working alongside soldiers as they were made aware ‘of the challenges of tomorrow’, which include the ‘robotisation of the battlefield’.
Though Spot appeared front and centre in the images, its involvement in the exercises came as news to Boston Dynamics, the company that built the robot.
Speaking to The Verge, vice president of business development Michael Perry said the robot had been supplied by a European distributor, Shark Robotics, and that while Boston Dynamics was aware its robots were being used with the French military, the US firm had not been forewarned about its involvement in this particular scenario.
He commented: ‘We’re learning about it as you are. We’re not clear on the exact scope of this engagement.’
Though the army’s use of Spot raises questions about how robots may be involved with the military in the future, Boston Dynamics has made clear that it does not intend for its machines to be armed.
The company is known for having created robots for the US army, but distanced itself from military connections as it moved into commercial markets. While Spot is still being tested by a number of US police forces, Perry said the company ‘unequivocally’ does not want ‘any customer using the robot to harm people’.
Boston Dynamics has clear policies which forbid both suppliers and customers from weaponising the robot, but it has not yet made a decision on whether or not to ban non-weaponised deployments by military customers.
We think that the military, to the extent that they do use robotics to take people out of harm’s way, we think that’s a perfectly valid use of the technology.
With this forward-deployment model that you’re discussing, it’s something we need to better understand to determine whether or not it’s actively being used to harm people.
A report by French newspaper Ouest-France, cited by The Verge, says Spot was one of a number of robots being tested by students from France’s École Militaire Interarmes (Combined Arms School) as it aimed to assess the usefulness of robots on the battlefield.
The French soldiers are said to have run a number of scenarios to see what difference the addition of robots made, including an offensive action capturing a crossroads, defensive actions during night and day, and an urban combat test.
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