The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is studying the possibility of using robot dogs to control borders in the south of the country. According to the DHS in a press release, these robots were developed and specifically trained to carry out different monitoring tasks, although there are still no set deadlines for its incorporation. The idea is that these robots can help increase the number of troops at borders while reducing exposure to danger from human agents.
“The southern frontier can be an inhospitable place for man and beast, and that’s precisely why a machine can excel there,” says Brenda Long, director of science and technology (S&T) at DHS. “This S&T-led initiative is focused on Automated Ground Surveillance Vehicles, or what we call ‘AGSVs’. Essentially, the AGSV program is about… robot dogs.
The robot dog DHS is working with was co-developed with the company Ghost Robotics, which recently made headlines by attaching a gun to one of these machines for the first time.
According to Gavin Kennelly, product manager of Ghost Robotics, this robot dog weighs 45 kilos and “can operate on all types of natural terrain, such as sand, rocks and hills, as well as artificial environments, such as stairs. That is why it has legs and not caterpillars”.
According to the DHS, the robot is designed so that its equipment can be easily changed and adapted to different functions. It can carry different cameras – 360 degrees, thermal, night vision or zoom – chemical, biological or radiological sensors, and can communicate with its operator by radio, Wi-Fi or GPS.
S&T and CBD have trained the machine for specific surveillance actions. According to them, the robot was able to successfully perform exercises in different conditions of visibility, temperature and type of terrain.
“Like everywhere else, there is the usual criminal behavior, but at the border there can also be human trafficking, drug trafficking and other contraband, including firearms or even potentially weapons of mass destruction,” the officer explained. Brett Becker, of the CBP Innovation Team. “These activities can be carried out by anyone, from a single individual to transnational criminal organizations, terrorists or hostile governments.”
A worrying trend
The robot dog is currently set up to be manipulated by a human operator, although this design will eventually allow it to be hooked up to artificial intelligence so it can operate autonomously. Moreover, as Ghost Robotics itself demonstrated last October, this same model Lethal firearms can be attached to it.
That couldn’t be done with Spot, the robot dog from Boston Dynamics that was the first model of its kind to hit the market and is practically related to that of Ghost Robotics in terms of design. However, Boston Dynamics has always said that you don’t want your products to be used to hurt people.
Precisly Spot has already used by other security and military agencies with little success. The French army tested it in training combat scenarios and battery failed in the middle of an exercise. And the NYPD stopped using it due to its erratic performance and the rejection its use caused among citizens.
“At a time when we should have more police walking the streets building relationships with residents, they’re going in another direction trying to replace them with robots,” he told The New York Times. at the time, Ben Kallos, alderman of the New York City Council.
We don’t know if Ghost Robotics’ robot dog will have the same problems as Spot when the DHS uses him to police its borders, if ever. We also don’t know if in the future these robot dogs will be fully autonomous or if lethal weapons will be attached to them. What we do know is that there are countries like Russia, and until very recently the United States, that do not want to regulate autonomous weapons capable of killing people without the need for control human.