Robots with Deadly Force?

Boston Dynamics is an American robotics company founded in 1992 as a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The company specializes in the design and manufacture of advanced robots. Boston Dynamics is known for developing a particularly agile humanoid robot, Atlas, as well as the four-legged dog-like robot named Spot. The company has recently made headlines when they banded together with a handful of other robot makers in a pledge not to weaponize their robots, and to do their best to make sure customers don’t plan to do so.

For many people, this was reassuring. Seeing top robot manufacturers solemnly swearing not to create killer robots made them feel less worried about the future.

Not so the Oakland police

The Oakland police department makes no such promises. They have a robot that uses something like a shotgun to detonate bombs safely. In a recent council meeting, a civilian asked the police department spokesperson whether the device could be loaded with live rounds.

This has never been done, but the police were not prepared to reject the possibility. “Oakland Police Department Lt. Joseph Turner, stressing the need to keep extreme options on the table for extreme circumstances, urged the commission to allow such a killer robot in case of ‘exigencies,’” reported the Intercept.

Negotiations began, with civilians asking the department to write a policy forbidding the use of armed robots and the police resisting. In the end, the policy was written, allowing the use of pepper spray by robots, but no lethal force. The police say they are still “looking into” it.

The first police robotic fatality

The first time a police robot killed a civilian was in Dallas in 2016, where the same bomb-detonating robot was used to kill a suspect in a mass shooting. This model of robot is used in 90% of U.S. police departments, according to a report from NPR.