The quadrupedal robot is one of the most exciting developments in robotics over recent years. They are small and agile, and can navigate in places that would be difficult for wheeled robots. It was only a matter time before someone got a gun on them.
Above is a picture of a Vision 60 quadrupedal robot built by Ghost Robotics in the USA. It has been fitted with a Sword International custom gun. The SPUR, or special purpose unmanned gun, is designed to fit on a wide range of robotic platforms. It features a 30x optical zoom and a thermal camera to target in the dark. The gun has an effective range of 1,200 metres.
It is not known if Ghost Robotics or Sword International are selling this combination of robot and gun. If they aren't, they may soon. According to Swords' marketing copy, the SWORD Defense System SPUR is the future unmanned weapon system systems. And that future is now.
This machine was first displayed at the Association of the United States Armys 2021 annual meeting earlier this week. The conference is described as a professional development forum and landpower exposition, which was held in Washington DC from October 11-13.
Robot dogs are being tested by the US military for patrol duty.
Although details about the partnership between Ghost & Sword are not clear, Ghost's quadrupedal robotics are being used by the US military. The 325th Security Forces Squadron of Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida was the first Department of Defense unit to use quadrupedal robotics in routine operations last year. According to Jiren Parikh, Ghost Robotics CEO, the robots are used to patrol the perimeter of the base, and navigate swampy areas not suitable for vehicles or humans.
While reconnaissance is the most obvious application for robot dogs', manufacturers are gradually experimenting with other payloads. The machines can be used to provide remote video and mapping as well as to detect chemical, biological and radiological matter (also known as CBRN).
They can also be used as weapons.
Boston Dynamics, the most well-known manufacturer of quadrupedal robotics and creators of Spot has a strict policy against weaponizing its machines. Others aren't as strict, however. There are many companies that sell uncrewed gun platforms with tank treads and wheels. So adding the same basic kit for legged machines to your arsenal is not difficult.
The larger question is how these robots are going to be used in the future, and what oversight will be needed when they fire lethal shots at humans.
Experts have warned for a while about the gradual rise in killer robots (known in US jargon as lethal autonomous weapons systems or LAWS). Official US policy doesn't prohibit their development nor deployment. While many groups are calling for a ban on these systems, companies seem to be continuing to make what is possible. This means that robot dogs will be protected by guns.