The Dallas Police Department revealed new details Monday about a robot that was used to kill the suspect in a shooting rampage last week.
Police tweeted that the robot was a Remotec Andros Mark V-A1 and not a Model F-5, as previously reported.
The robot was used to dispatch a suspect who opened fire during a Black Lives Matter protest, killing five officers and injuring several more. The unit is supposed to be used for bomb disposal, though it was harnessed by police last week to deliver an explosive instead. While the decision kept officers out of harm’s way, some wondered about the implications of police deploying high-tech weapons without oversight.
The Andros Mark V-A1, which is made by military tech company Northrop Grumman, contains a surveillance camera and an extendable arm with a rotatable “gripper.” It’s controlled wirelessly and can climb up stairs. In this case, it used its gripper to deliver a C4 explosive, which police detonated to kill the suspect.
A non-lethal option may not have been possible, said Dr. Robert Latiff, a retired major general of the United States Air Force who now serves as a technology expert at the University of Notre Dame.
“Given lots of time ― which they did not have ― and resources, the police probably could have disabled the shooter,” Latiff told The Huffington Post via email.
“Remember though, they were in the midst of what would have been a combat situation. While the action they took was admittedly different, and will generate much discussion, I do not see it any differently than if a police marksman had been able to shoot the perpetrator from a distance,” he added.
In a sense, the Mark V-A1 is a tool like any other. It isn’t some artificially intelligent kill bot like the Terminator. But Illah Nourbakhsh, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, warns that ignoring the greater implications of this technology’s deployment could be disastrous.
“Future such robots will have only more bells and whistles, all of which provide the affordance for a whole array of ways in which the robot can perform activities never dreamt of by the engineers, or by the purchasing agents who chose to equip the police department with them,” Nourbakhsh told HuffPost via email. “This takes us to a Wild West where sophisticated machines unleash the creative potential of the users.”
There are ethical concerns, he added.
“There are no laws, guidelines or oversight processes for killing with a bomb disposal ‘bot,” Nourbakhsh said.
The robot was used by Dallas police in a different way than intended. As robots become more advanced, Nourbakhsh argued, the gap between that original design and actual function will widen, which could lead to problems. We see this everywhere in developing technology.
Consider your smartphone: When you bought it, even just a couple of years ago, there may not have been an easy way to keep law enforcement from prying into your messages if you became a criminal suspect. Now secure messaging apps are everywhere, potentially transforming your phone into a device with significantly more advanced capabilities than what you paid for.
Apply that logic to heavy machinery that can be outfitted with weapons and you might understand what all of the concern is about.