Like most tactical robots, the low-slung, 25-pound machine named Dogo, crafted by the Israeli firm General Robotics, is designed to scout out hostile situations. It can roll into dangerous environments, act as negotiator with its two-way voice communication, and feed video of potential targets back to police remotely operating it.
But unlike most tactical bots, Dogo is packing. Its integrated Glock 26 can fire at targets selected by its operator using a “Point & Shoot” interface, potentially ending an armed standoff without putting human officers in harm’s way.Robots carrying less-lethal weapons pose their own problems, ranging from the risks of tethering a flying, multi-bladed machine to a suspect (since Tasers only work while the darts are attached to a target), to the simple fact that Taser tried to sell weaponized ground bots as recently as 2007, and police departments didn’t buy them.
“The robot wasn’t the challenge,” says Taser international spokesman Steve Tuttle. “The Taser wasn’t the challenge. Getting it to hit accurately wasn’t the problem. The proof of concept was nailed. The proof of sales? Negligible.”
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Though Taser’s efforts to mount its products on robots failed because of insufficient demand, the rollout of deadly robots doesn’t require huge numbers of customers, or a new cottage industry of killer bot-makers. Police departments can follow Dallas PD’s lead and arm their previously purchased systems with improvised weapons, or order a product like Dogo. Just as police departments purchase military equipment, such as assault rifles and armored personnel carriers, there’s nothing preventing them from spending the tax-payer dollars an armed robot.
Whether General Robotics has actually sold any Dogos since July is unknown, but it’s now using Dallas as a case study in its pitches to customers, along with other recent mass shootings, such as the massacres at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and at the Bataclan music venue in Paris in 2015. General Robotics claims that Dogo would shorten response time — most standoffs last for hours — and allow for a “clean kill,” with less chance of collateral damage.
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As unrealistic as it is to imagine weaponized robots responding to routine calls, they are now poised to play a larger role in U.S. law enforcement, raising new ethical questions about when and how lethal force should be deployed.
“My guess is that the general public is not going to have a hard time with it,” Miller says. “If the alternative is that we have this great technology and this great robot, but no, we can’t do that, because that’s too Orwellian, and now the husband or the wife with kids has to go down the hallway and see if they can get the bad guy. I think people will generally understand the difference.”