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8 Apr, 2021 13:42

French military tests the robotic dog Spot in combat drill, Boston Dynamics tells media it had no idea

French military tests the robotic dog Spot in combat drill, Boston Dynamics tells media it had no idea

Spot, the four-legged robo-canine built by Boston Dynamics, appears alongside trainee soldiers during drills carried out by a French military school, but the US firm says it had not been notified in advance about its use.

The pictures of the drill were shared earlier this week on Twitter by France’s foremost military school, the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr in the country’s northwest. The tweet said the drill tested students’ awareness of the challenges of tomorrow, like robotization of the battlefield.

The two-day exercise brought together 80 students with some combat experience and several robots, Spot among them. According to French media, last month’s drill re-enacted offensive action, defensive action and urban combat. The actions were performed first without robots, then with their help. The newspaper Ouest-France suggests the robotic dog was being used for reconnaissance.

“During the phase of urban combat without a robot, I was killed. But then when the robot did the reconnaissance, I wasn’t”, the newspaper quotes one of the soldiers, who went on to say that Spot didn't prove too reliable as its battery died “in the middle of an assault”.

An executive with Boston Dynamics, Michael Perry, told technology news website The Verge that the robodogs developer had no idea it took part in a military drill. “We're learning about it as you are. We're not clear on the exact scope of this engagement”. He explained that Spot was distributed in Europe by a reseller, Shark Robotics.

Boston Dynamics describes Spot as “an agile mobile robot that navigates terrain with unprecedented mobility”, which helps its users achieve results in a safer, more efficient and more predictable manner. Spot can carry up to 14 kilos of equipment and be fitted with cameras. Available for sale since last June for $74,500, it can use an artificial intelligence system to go on autonomous missions; however, it's mostly operated by remote-control.

The company stressed that every buyer of Spot robots and other models signs a user agreement, according to which it is prohibited to use robots to harm or intimidate people or as a weapon.

Some Twitter users found the prospect of a robot warrior terrifying.

Others were saying that robodogs like that would help save lives.

Boston Dynamics is working on developing what it calls the “most advanced robots on Earth”. The firm initially developed robots for the US Army, but later moved into commercial markets. Spot is being tested by US police, including by the NYPD. The US Air Force is also currently testing a robot similar to Spot built by a rival firm.

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Militaries around the world have already started using robots in warfare, remotely operated drones, for example. Critics oppose the use of robots by law enforcement and military organizations, citing concerns that using robots desensitizes humans by separating them from the consequences of conflict, and also poses an increased danger to civilians.

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Boston Dynamics’ robotic dogs went viral when they were first seen being used to compel people to maintain social distancing in Singapore as the coronavirus outbreak spread last year. The devices have been used for a variety of tasks seen as undesirable for humans to perform. They've been used to map construction sites and tested as a bomb-defusing bot by police in the US. Spot has also been fitted with a radiation sensor and deployed to Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster.

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