Boston Dynamics and other robotics firms pledge not to WEAPONIZE their products in new open letter

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Robotics company Boston Dynamics is pledging not to support the weaponization of its products and calling for its competitors to do the same. 

In a new letter, the firm said recent efforts to weaponize their robots – such as a Russian inventor who strapped a submachine gun to a Unitree robot and filmed it shooting targets – had added to the urgency of their declaration.

‘We pledge that we will not weaponize our advanced-mobility general-purpose robots or the software we develop that enables advanced robotics and we will not support others to do so,’ the letter, which was signed by six other companies, including Unitree, states. 

The Massachusetts-based tech company has frequently seen videos of its robot dogs Spot or its humanoid robot Atlas go viral for performing various stunts or athletic tasks in public. 

Robotics company Boston Dynamics is pledging not to support the weaponization of its products and calling for its competitors to do the same

Robotics company Boston Dynamics is pledging not to support the weaponization of its products and calling for its competitors to do the same

The Massachusetts-based tech company has frequently seen videos of its robot dogs Spot or its humanoid robot Atlas (above) go viral for performing various stunts or athletic tasks in public

The Massachusetts-based tech company has frequently seen videos of its robot dogs Spot or its humanoid robot Atlas (above) go viral for performing various stunts or athletic tasks in public

Anyone who has watched the Black Mirror episode ‘Metalhead’ that features a robotic dog or seen the film Angel Has Fallen, which features an attempted assassination of the president by autonomous, AI-powered drones, is aware of the potential risks these new technologies pose. 

‘We believe that adding weapons to robots that are remotely or autonomously operated, widely available to the public, and capable of navigating to previously inaccessible locations where people live and work, raises new risks of harm and serious ethical issues,’ the letter, which was also signed by Agility Robotics, ANYbotics, Clearpath Robotics, Open Robotics and Unitree Robotics, says. 

They also pledged to carefully review their customers’ planned use of any robots to avoid potential weaponization and to develop new technological features that could mitigate or reduce the risks. 

The letter notes that any technology can be misused by bad actors who could then use it to encroach upon civil rights, threaten or harm the public, or far worse.   

In footage released by Boston Dynamics in August 2021, its humanoid bot Atlas (above) could be seen successfully leaping atop boxes and performing backflips while it was untethered

In footage released by Boston Dynamics in August 2021, its humanoid bot Atlas (above) could be seen successfully leaping atop boxes and performing backflips while it was untethered

Atlas (above), first unveiled in 2013, is intended to help emergency services workers with search and rescue operations

Atlas (above), first unveiled in 2013, is intended to help emergency services workers with search and rescue operations

Alexander Atamanov, the founder of a Russian hoverbike company, uploaded a video, which shows a UnitreeYushu dogbot – that retails for about $3,000 – shooting at snow-covered hills outside. At a time when autonomous drones are being used to target terrorists and the U.S. Army has its own sniper rifle-armed robot dog, the video is a terrifying reminder that this type of weapon is already a reality.

Weaponized applications of these newly-capable robots will also harm public trust in ways that damage the tremendous benefits the technology will bring to society, the firms warned. 

National and local government agencies are already using robots for a variety of tasks. Boston Dynamics’ $75,000 robot dog, known as Spot, joined the FDNY in March to help firefighters with search and rescue missions by collecting data and images during hazardous situations. 

Captain Michael Leo, from the agency’s robotics department, told the New York Times the robot dogs are safe and will ‘save lives.’

Alexander Atamanov, the founder of a Russian hoverbike company, uploaded a video (above), which shows a UnitreeYushu dogbot - that retails for about $3,000 - shooting at snow-covered hills outside

Alexander Atamanov, the founder of a Russian hoverbike company, uploaded a video (above), which shows a UnitreeYushu dogbot – that retails for about $3,000 – shooting at snow-covered hills outside

The letter is not meant to ban the legitimate use of the bots:'To be clear, we are not taking issue with existing technologies that nations and their government agencies use to defend themselves and uphold their laws.' ABOVE: German soldiers pose with a robot dog known as Wolfgang in July 2022

The letter is not meant to ban the legitimate use of the bots: ‘To be clear, we are not taking issue with existing technologies that nations and their government agencies use to defend themselves and uphold their laws.’ ABOVE: German soldiers pose with a robot dog known as Wolfgang in July 2022

That deployment came less than a year after the New York Police Department terminated its contract with the robotics firm amid privacy concerns. 

Spot has also been used since July by police in Western Australia where it’s tasked with performing reconnaissance during incidents in challenging terrain that involve explosives. 

In footage released by Boston Dynamics in August 2021, its humanoid bot Atlas could be seen successfully leaping atop boxes and performing backflips while it was untethered. That robot, first unveiled in 2013, is intended to help emergency services workers with search and rescue operations. 

The letter is not meant to ban the legitimate use of the bots: ‘To be clear, we are not taking issue with existing technologies that nations and their government agencies use to defend themselves and uphold their laws.’

‘We also call on every organization, developer, researcher, and user in the robotics community to make similar pledges not to build, authorize, support, or enable the attachment of weaponry to such robots,’ the letter states. ‘We call on policymakers to work with us to promote safe use of these robots and to prohibit their misuse.’

‘We are convinced that the benefits for humanity of these technologies strongly outweigh the risk of misuse, and we are excited about a bright future in which humans and robots work side by side to tackle some of the world’s challenges.’ 

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