Boston Dynamics: Spot, a quadrupedal robot from the North American Boston Dynamics, is being used in French army training. Currently, the “robot dog” helps soldiers to conduct reconnaissance during activities.
École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, France’s main military school, posted photos of the actions on Twitter. The institution describes the tests as a way to make students aware of the challenges of tomorrow and robotization on the battlefield.
— Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan (@SaintCyrCoet) March 31, 2021
According to Ouest-France, soldiers from the military school participated in two days of training in different scenarios. The exercises involved offensive and defensive actions, and an urban combat test.
Each scenario was practiced only with humans and then with students and robots. In this way, they analyzed the differences of having machines operating on the battlefield.
Despite delaying operations, Spot helped keep troops safer. One soldier said he died during a human-only test, something that can be avoided when the robot was used to perform reconnaissance.
However, one of the problems with the robotic dog was battery life. During one of the exercises, he ran out of energy and needed to be removed from the field to be recharged.
Robots on the battlefield
Spot’s presence on simulated battlefields raises questions about where it will be deployed in the future. Boston Dynamics began its history by creating models for the American army, but distanced itself from the military by focusing on the commercial market.
Today, the company is very concerned about the use of robots to harm humans. So much so that Spot’s terms prohibit the use to hurt or intimidate any person or animal, or as a weapon or to enable weapons.
It is possible to argue that the French army uses the robot to patrol buildings and that would not be harmful to anyone. But recognition is the prelude to a military confrontation, which makes the distinction fragile.