let’s talk about Mounting guns on the back of the robot. I’m not a fan (how’s that to take a stand?) When MSCHF did it with Spot back in February, it was a thought experiment, art exhibition, and a statement about where society can be headed with autonomous robotics Is. And most importantly, of course, it was a paintball gun. Boston Dynamics clearly wasn’t thrilled with the message it was sending, noting:
Today we learned that an art group is planning a spectacle to draw attention to our provocative use of our industrial robot, Spot. To be clear, we condemn the depiction of our technology in any way that promotes violence, harm or intimidation.
This is exactly the kind of thing the company tries to get out in front of. After decades of killer-robot science-fiction, it doesn’t take long for people to jump in when any advanced robot picture enters the picture. This is the automaton version of Rule 34 (in blatant defiance of Asimov’s First Law of Robotics): If a robot exists, someone has tried to weaponize it.
As I said in this same column, I’m glad we’re having these conversations now, and I’m glad people are skeptical when the NYPD trots out a branded version of the spot. I also think it’s important to note, for example, that police departments have been using robots for years to perform dangerous tasks such as bomb detection. Most of us would probably agree that saving people from explosions is a good use for robots.
I’m glad Boston Dynamics continues to vocalize its opposition to using robots to do harm (when it comes to headless quadruped robots, what’s intimidating is another conversation entirely). The makers of the Spot – along with a broad swath of the robotics industry – cut their teeth on DARPA-funded projects. I’d say there’s a huge gap between building a robotic pack mule and a mobile weapon, but these are exactly the kinds of things you need to bake into a mission statement.
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For this Ghost Robotics dog on display at the Union of the US Army convention in DC this week, I’d say intimidation is probably the best-case scenario. I’ll let rifle maker SWORD Defense Systems have my say here:
The SWORD Defense Systems Special Purpose Unmanned Rifle (SPUR) was specifically designed to offer precision fire from unmanned platforms such as the Ghost Robotics Vision-60 Quadruple. Featuring safe, chamber, clear and fire capabilities that allow safe and reliable deployment of the weapon system – giving the operator the ability to load and secure the weapon at a distance.
If that doesn’t bring a chill down your spine, I don’t know what to tell you. Is it morally far from the kind of attack the military has been using for decades of bombing missions? Potentially not. But I’m also not a fan of drone attacks.
Ghost Robotics certainly can’t be accused of sabotaging its military connections. A solider with a Ghost Vision system is the first thing that comes to mind when you visit the company’s site. However you feel about the DoD’s budget, defense funding has historically been a big part of keeping robotics companies afloat, long before VCs were pouring money into this category. Ghost’s site breaks things down according to Defense, Homeland, and Enterprise. Recent Highly Promoted 5G Deals Comes with Verizon later.
Recent Coverage has highlighted the use of robotic dogs for patrolling war zones – in that case not dissimilar to the functionality of the SPOT. But by mounting a gun to the robot, the math here changes a lot. Lots of questions – I’ve reached out to Ghost Robotics with some introductory ones. But it certainly isn’t the last we’ll hear about this setup.
In non-manned-rifle news, Dexterity continues to make waves with another big increase. Just a year after sneaking out with $56.2 million, the Bay Area-based firm is clearly striking while the iron is hot, as interest in automatic fulfillment has soared during the pandemic. Four years after launch, it raised just $140 million at a valuation of $1.4 billion.
The company has been running its systems in the real world for over two years, covering a wide range of different items, including “loosely packaged deformable polybags, delicate hot-dog buns, floppy tortillas, poorly sealed cardboard boxes, etc.” From earthworm bags, consumer food trays and crates, even molten birthday cakes.” Dexterity plans to use the money to continue deploying its first thousand robots.
Ending us this week is the Yanmar YV01, an autonomous spraying robot designed specifically for vineyards.
“The YV01 offers state-of-the-art autonomous technology and is flexible, lightweight and environmentally friendly as it ensures highly precise spraying on the vines,” said Peter Aarons, president of Yanmar Europe, in a release. “It can be safely and easily operated by a nearby supervisor and is ideally suited for vineyards that have narrow paths and where the vines are not tall.”
Currently being tested in (where else) champagne-producing Epernay, France, the system will go on sale next year.