France’s main military academy, the Saint-Cyr, located in the northwestern region of Brittany, shared several images of soldiers with Spot during military exercises.
Spot is a nimble, four-legged robotic dog that is built for both outdoor and indoor use. It can map out its environment, sense and avoid obstacles, climb stairs and open doors. (Related: FREAKY: Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini robo-dogs can coordinate, navigate, open doors, climb stairs and even load the dishwasher.)
According to Michael Perry, vice president of Business Development at Boston Dynamics, the company is learning more about Spot’s potential military application at the same time as the French Army.
“We’re not clear on the exact scope of this engagement,” said Perry.
Boston Dynamics quadruped UGV Spot and Shark Robotics electric Barakuda UGV participate in exercises at the French military research school Centre de recherche des écoles de @SaintCyrCoet (CREC)#ugv #unmanned #unmannedvehicles #robotics #military #research #training #france pic.twitter.com/1WCASPmdA4
— Melanie Rovery (@MelanieRovery) April 7, 2021
Spot’s military capabilities are promising, but may be limited
French newspaper Ouest-France said that Spot was one of a number of robots tested alongside students of Saint-Cyr in a series of military exercises intended to assess the usefulness of robots in future battles.
The military academy said Spot and the other robots will help Saint-Cyr’s students become more aware of the challenges they may face in future, more technologically-driven conflicts.
Spot was used during a two-day exercise. Daily French newspaper Ouest-France said the Saint-Cyr students ran a number of different scenarios with the robot, including an urban combat test, multiple defensive actions during day and night and an offensive action meant to simulate capturing a crossroad.
Each scenario was performed using humans first, and then using humans and robots together to see what difference the presence of the machines can make.
Sources who participated in the exercises quoted by Ouest-France said the presence of the robots helped keep troops safe, but slowed down operations.
“During the urban combat phase where we weren’t using robots, I died,” said one soldier. “But I didn’t die when we had the robot and he conducted reconnaissance first.”
Other soldiers added that they had a problem with Spot’s battery life. During one exercise the robot ran out of power and had to be carried out.
Saint-Cyr has not published any statement regarding their assessment of Spot’s capabilities. Ouest-France suggested the robot dog may be used for reconnaissance purposes since it is equipped with multiple cameras and its four legs allow it to navigate areas that might be difficult for treaded or wheeled robots to access.
One problem that may hinder Spot’s potential is its terms and conditions. Spot is barred from being used “to harm or intimidate any person or animal, as a weapon, or to enable any weapon.”
This means that reconnaissance missions intended to scout buildings for soldiers is allowed, but surveillance missions done to help military units locate targets to engage are not. Boston Dynamics is clear in that any modification of Spot cannot include its weaponization. The firm is still figuring out whether or not to ban non-weaponized deployments by military customers like the French Army.
“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,” explained Perry. “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.”
But critics of the use of robots in warfare say it is inevitable that machines like Spot will be weaponized.
Some of Spot’s other owners have already done this. In February, a Brooklyn-based company called MSCHF strapped Spot with a paintball gun that could be controlled by the public.
Learn more about the potential application of different robotics systems in warfare by reading the latest articles at MilitaryTechnology.news.