Boston Dynamics and others condemn weaponising general robots

7 Oct 2022

The Spot robot. Image: Boston Dynamics

Six manufacturers pledged not to add weapons to their designs, as this raises ‘new risks of harm and serious ethical issues’.

A robotic manufacturing coalition led by Boston Dynamics has condemned the idea of putting weapons on general purpose robots.

Six companies from three continents signed the open letter, pledging not to weaponise their own “advanced-mobility general purpose robots” or the software that enables advanced robotics.

The manufacturers also pledged to not support other firms that weaponise their robots. Along with Boston Dynamics, which developed Spot the robot dog, the signing companies are Agility, Anybotics, Clearpath Robotics, Open Robotics and Unitree.

The letter states that the emergence of advanced robots brings the possibility of misuse, as “untrustworthy people” could use these machines to threaten or harm others.

“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 states.

The idea of adding weapons to general purpose robots has been around for some time. In 2021, it was revealed that US firm Ghost Robotics had added a sniper rifle to its Vision 60 robot.

“Weaponised applications of these newly capable robots will also harm public trust in the technology in ways that damage the tremendous benefits they will bring to society,” the coalition said. “For these reasons, we do not support the weaponisation of our advanced-mobility general purpose robots.”

The companies called on policymakers to help promote the safe use of these robots, and asked other stakeholders such as researchers and developers to make similar pledges against weaponising these robots.

“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,” the companies said.

In 2021, MEPs called for an EU strategy prohibiting the use of lethal autonomous weapon systems and a ban on so-called ‘killer robots’.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic