I had two diametrically opposed but near simultaneous reactions when I ran across this story. First, how cool is this? which was immediately followed by I really need to check my stock of .223.
At least we all have a new answer to give the next time someone asks “Why does anyone need an AR-15?” I mean, how else are you going to keep the impending army of armed robot dogs at bay?
The image above shows a quadrupedal robot — a Vision 60 unit built by US firm Ghost Robotics — that’s been equipped with a custom gun by small-arms specialists Sword International. It seems the gun itself (dubbed the SPUR or “special purpose unmanned rifle”) is designed to be fitted onto a variety of robotic platforms. It has a 30x optical zoom, thermal camera for targeting in the dark, and an effective range of 1,200 meters.
What’s not clear is whether or not Sword International or Ghost Robotics are currently selling this combination of gun and robot. But if they’re not, it seems they will be soon. As the marketing copy on Sword’s website boasts: “The SWORD Defense Systems SPUR is the future of unmanned weapon systems, and that future is now.”
As someone who’s both vociferously pro-Second Amendment and ardently anti-robot, I’m really torn here. Not that it matters what I or anyone else thinks. Like it or not, the armed robots are here, and you know who’s going to soon be shelling out top dollar for them? Besides Elon Musk, I mean.
Details about the partnership between Ghost and Sword are unclear, but Ghost’s quadrupedal robots are already being tested by the US military. Last year, the 325th Security Forces Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida became the first unit in the Department of Defense to use quadrupedal robots in regular operations. It uses them to patrol the base’s perimeter, navigating swampy areas that “aren’t desirable for human beings and vehicles,” according to an interview with Ghost Robotics CEO Jiren Parikh.
Now, I don’t think we’re going to see entire battalions of infantry replaced by these four-legged Terminators in the immediate future, but as robotics technology scales up and the cost goes down, the practicality of using unmanned armed robots will start to make more sense. At some point the price may even be low enough that civilians and businesses could afford to have their own kennel of armed robot dogs.
Which raises an interesting question for Second Amendment supporters: is a ban on fully autonomous weapons akin to a ban on guns used by humans? After all, we’re fighting for the right of the people, not machines, to keep and bear arms. And yes, there is a killer robot control lobby, though at this point it doesn’t appear to be nearly as well-funded as groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action.
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is a growing global coalition of 180 international, regional, and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 65+ countries that is working to preemptively ban fully autonomous weapons.
I don’t think they’re going to be successful in stopping the rise of the killer robots, but if nothing else they’ve got a catchy name.
Armed autonomous robots are simply too useful in terms of military applications for the tech to be tossed aside, and even if an international treaty to ban them were floated at the U.N., does anybody really believe that countries like Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia would abide by it? Heck, any totalitarian or authoritarian regime worth its salt is going to want as many of these killer robots as possible, if only to keep unruly citizens and potential political rivals under their metallic paws. No U.N. treaty or international movement is going to curtail the development of these fully autonomous weapons. Even if a piece of paper and a bunch of signatures was enough to do so (and they’re not), it’s a little late for that now. The armed robots are here, and that’s yet another reason why giving up my arms isn’t up for discussion.