Interest in the incorporation of robots into security, policing and military operations has been steadily increasing over the last few years. It’s an avenue already being explored in both North America and Europe.
Robot integration into these areas could be seen as analogous to the inclusion of dogs in policing and military roles in the 20th century. Dogs have served as guards, sentries, message carriers and mine detectors, among other roles.
Utility robots, designed to play a support role to humans, are mimicking our four-legged companions not only in form, but in function as well. Mounted with surveillance technology and able to ferry equipment, ammunition and more as part of resupply chains, they could significantly minimise the risk of harm to human soldiers on the battlefield.
However, utility robots would undoubtedly take on a different dimension if weapons systems were added to them. Essentially, they would become land-based variants of the MQ-9 Predator Drone aircraft currently in use by the US military.
In 2021, the company Ghost Robotics showcased one of their four-legged robots, called Q-UGV, that had been armed with a Special Purpose Unmanned Rifle 4. The showcase event leaned into the weaponisation of utility robots.
It is important to take note of how each aspect of this melding of weaponry and robotics operates in a different way. Although the robot itself is semi-autonomous and can be controlled remotely, the mounted weapon has no autonomous capability and is fully controlled by an operator.
In September 2023, US Marines conducted a proof of concept test involving another four-legged utility robot. They measured its abilities to “acquire and prosecute targets with a M72 Light Anti-Tank Weapon”.
The test reignited the ethics debate about the use of automated and semi-automated weapon systems in warfare. It would not be such a big step for either of these platforms to incorporate AI-driven threat detection and the capability to “lock on” to targets. In fact, sighting systems of this nature are already available on the open market.