Killer bot? Terrifying robot dog fitted with a 6.5mm sniper RIFLE unveiled at the US Army trade show

A robot dog design armed with a 6.5 mm Creedmoor sniper rifle capable of precisely hitting targets from 3,940 feet away has been unveiled at the US Army trade show.

The ‘Special Purpose Unmanned Rifle’ (SPUR) is the brainchild of Philadelphia-based Ghost Robotics and arms manufacturer SWORD International of Sparks, Nevada.

Placed on top of one of Ghost Robotics’ existing ‘quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicle’ designs, SPUR can be remotely instructed to load, unload and fire its rifle. 

The firms have yet to reveal the exact configuration of the weapon, nor how much ammunition the machine is capable of carrying or its reload rate.

However, tests have shown that the 6.5mm rounds used in the Creedmoor rifle offer an increase in range over the 7.62x51mm cartridges currently used by US forces.

It is also presently unclear how much each robot unit and SPUR attachment will cost to purchase and maintain. 

The arming of robots with SPUR — while arguably an inevitable development not that distinct from other unmanned ground weapons — is still likely to stir up controversy.

In contrast, for example, competitor Boston Dynamics — known for their oft-dancing robot dog ‘Spot’ — have committed to never arming any of their bots with weapons.

And the prospect of weaponised robot dogs turning on and killings humans was brought to discomforting life in the 2017 Black Mirror episode ‘Metalhead’. 

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A robot dog design armed with a 6.5 mm Creedmoor sniper rifle (pictured) capable of precisely hitting targets from 3,940 feet away has been unveiled at the US Army trade show

 A robot dog design armed with a 6.5 mm Creedmoor sniper rifle (pictured) capable of precisely hitting targets from 3,940 feet away has been unveiled at the US Army trade show

The arming of robots with SPUR — while arguably an inevitable development not that distinct from other unmanned weapons — is still likely to stir controversy. The prospect of robot dogs turning on and killings humans was brought to discomforting life a 2017 Black Mirror episode

 The arming of robots with SPUR — while arguably an inevitable development not that distinct from other unmanned weapons — is still likely to stir controversy. The prospect of robot dogs turning on and killings humans was brought to discomforting life a 2017 Black Mirror episode

SPOT IS A ‘PACIFICST’ 

While SPUR might be straining at the leash to join the battlefield, Ghost Robotics’ better-known rival, Boston Dynamics, have said that they condemn any application of their Spot dog that even appears to promote ‘violence, harm or intimidation.’

The firm made the comments back in February, after New York-based start-up MSCHF (pronounced ‘mischief’) mounted a Spot machine with a paintball gun and let the public use it to shoot up an art gallery.

Nevertheless, Boston Dynamics’ does not appear to have the same concerns around policing and enforcement applications — with Spot already being used as a pair of remote eyes in hazardous situations and to patrol parks in Singapore during COVID-19.

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‘Due to its highly capable sensors, the SPUR can operate in a magnitude of conditions, both day and night,’ the developers announced at the army trade show.

‘The SWORD Defense Systems SPUR is the future of unmanned weapons system — and that future is now,’ they added. 

An advantage to giving an armed robot a four-footed design like SPUR’s comes from the stability this quadrupedal arrangement offers.

‘When our robots move around and you shove them, these forces are computed at 2,000 calculations per second per leg,’ Ghost Robotics CEO and founder Jiren Parikh told The War Zone last year.

Mr Parikh went on to explain that his firm are working to ensure that their robots are able to continue to function even if some of their onboard sensors fail.

‘We’re adjusting it to make it like a mammal. Our robot, when you see it climbing stairs or walking or running around, we turn off all the sensors,” he said. 

‘It’s just feeling. It’s completely blind. The reason we do that is because if a warfighter or a mining company — if anybody is using our robot — [it] had better operate 99.99% of the time.’ 

In a similar vein, the SPUR module appears to be equipped with its own sighting system on top to allow operators to aim at the rifle’s chosen target.

The 'Special Purpose Unmanned Rifle' (SPUR, pictured) is the brainchild of Philadelphia-based Ghost Robotics and arms manufacturer SWORD International of Sparks, Nevada

 The ‘Special Purpose Unmanned Rifle’ (SPUR, pictured) is the brainchild of Philadelphia-based Ghost Robotics and arms manufacturer SWORD International of Sparks, Nevada

Placed on top of one of Ghost Robotics' existing 'quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicle' designs, SPUR can be remotely instructed to load, unload and fire its rifle

 Placed on top of one of Ghost Robotics’ existing ‘quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicle’ designs, SPUR can be remotely instructed to load, unload and fire its rifle

The US Air Force has reportedly expressed an interest in the possibility of operating robot dogs remotely from central command facilities by means of interfaces similar in design to commercial virtual reality headsets.  

Officers are looking to use the machines for perimeter security, scouting and urban warfare operations — as well as opening up access to spaces that might be too small, tight  or dangerous for a human soldier to safely navigate into.

Ghost Robotics is no stranger to collaboration looking to explore potential defence and security applications of their bots — and is engaged in partnerships with firms including defence contractor Honeywell and the ARES Security Corporation.

Reaction on Twitter to the unveiling of the SPUR-equipped robots was mixed — but with more concern than endorsement.

‘Black Mirror is a cautionary series, not a blueprint for the future,’ wrote Kate Paul Dillon on the social media platform.

Other users said that the robot would make a good ‘doggo’ for the murderous robots from the Terminator sci-fi franchise. 

The Association of the United States Army’s 2021 Annual Meeting and Exposition was held at the Washington Convention Center, Washington DC, from October 11–13.

Reaction on Twitter to the unveiling of the SPUR-equipped robots was mixed — but with more concern than endorsement. Pictured: some responses

Reaction on Twitter to the unveiling of the SPUR-equipped robots was mixed — but with more concern than endorsement. Pictured: some responses

 

 

BOSTON DYNAMICS’ SPOT

Boston Dynamics first showed off SpotMini, the most advanced robot dog ever created, in a video posted in November 2017.

The firm, best known for Atlas, its 5 foot 9 (1.7 metre) humanoid robot, has revealed a new ‘lightweight’ version of its robot Spot Mini.

The robotic canine was shown trotting around a yard, with the promise that more information from the notoriously secretive firm is ‘coming soon’.

‘SpotMini is a small four-legged robot that comfortably fits in an office or home’ the firm says on its website.

It weighs 25 kg (55 lb), or 30 kg (66 lb) when you include the robotic arm.

SpotMini is all-electric and can go for about 90 minutes on a charge, depending on what it is doing, the firm says, boasting ‘SpotMini is the quietest robot we have built.’ 

SpotMini was first unveiled in 2016, and a previous version of the mini version of spot with a strange extendable neck has been shown off helping around the house. 

In the firm’s previous video, the robot is shown walking out of the firm’s HQ and into what appears to be a home.

There, it helps load a dishwasher and carries a can to the trash.

It also at one point encounters a dropped banana skin and falls dramatically – but uses its extendable neck to push itself back up. 

‘SpotMini is one of the quietest robots we have ever built, the firm says, due to its electric motors.

‘It has a variety of sensors, including depth cameras, a solid state gyro (IMU) and proprioception sensors in the limbs. 

‘These sensors help with navigation and mobile manipulation. 

‘SpotMini performs some tasks autonomously, but often uses a human for high-level guidance.’ 

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