Modern Warfare: French Army Conducts Military Exercises Alongside Boston Dynamics Robot Dog, Spot
The French army has appeared alongside Spot, the quadruped robot built by US firm Boston Dynamics carrying out military exercises. The army was using the robot for reconnaissance during a two-day training exercise.
While this might be a brilliant use of the robot, it also raises questions about how and where the technology will be deployed in the future.
France’s foremost military school, the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr shared images from the exercise on its Twitter page. It described the tests as “raising students’ awareness of the challenges of tomorrow,” which will include the “robotization of the battlefield”.
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The image carries the caption; “Quand l’EMIA part au combat avec des robots terrestres” translating to “When EMIA goes into battle with ground robots”
— Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan (@SaintCyrCoet) March 31, 2021
French newspaper Ouest-France in a report says that Spot was one of a number of robots undergoing testing by students from France’s École Militaire Interarmes (Combined Arms School). The report says the training aims to assess the usefulness of robots on future battlefields.
However, Boston Dynamics’ vice president of business development Michael Perry says his company is unaware of the exercise. He told The Verge that the robot had been supplied to the French army by a European distributor, Shark Robotics, and his company had not been notified in advance about its use. “We’re learning about it as you are. We’re not clear on the exact scope of this engagement,” he said.
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Boston Dynamics has for a while distanced itself from military connections. Although Spot a number of US police forces are currently testing the robot, the company says that its machines will never be armed. “We unequivocally do not want any customer using the robot to harm people,” says Perry.
Spot’s terms and conditions forbid it from being used “to harm or intimidate any person or animal, as a weapon, or to enable any weapon”. However, the company is still not sure what role it can permit the robot to play on the battlefield.
“We think that the military, to the extent that they do use robotics to take people out of harm’s way, we think that’s a perfectly valid use of the technology. With this forward-deployment model that you’re discussing, it’s something we need to better understand to determine whether or not it’s actively being used to harm people,” Perry says.
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