A ‘pack’ of four dog-like surveillance robots will soon be patrolling Tyndall Air Force Base, the facility revealed on Friday. The release hinted the Panama City base would merely be “one of the first” to receive four-legged assistance after the creatures were demo’ed in an on-base event earlier this week.
The announcement took pains to note that “while these robots walk on all fours and resemble a dog, they are not intended to replace the military working dogs,” and canines concerned about their jobs need not lie awake at night. Instead, they will “aid in patrolling operations,” allowing flesh-and-blood servicemembers to focus their attention on meatier tasks.
“These robot dogs will be used as a force multiplier for enhanced situational awareness by patrolling areas that aren’t desirable for human beings and vehicles,” Jordan Criss, commander of the 325th, said in the statement, bragging that “We are the first unit within the Department of Defense to use this technology for enhanced security patrolling operations.”
The “unmanned ground vehicles” will regularly roam the base with a set patrol path, while supervising humans can intervene and “drive” them with a virtual reality headset if needed to see what the robot is encountering during its travels. “These dogs will be an extra set of eyes and ears while computing large amounts of data at strategic locations” around the base, Criss enthused, adding that a radio attached to the dog will also be able to give orders to nearby personnel.
While the “dogs” superficially resemble the ‘Spot’ robot sold by Boston Dynamics, which has been deployed in Singapore to enforce social distancing measures during the Covid-19 pandemic and was recently spotted on the streets of Canada, they are actually manufactured by Philadelphia-based Ghost Robotics. Like Spot, Ghost’s “Vision 60” model is ostensibly unarmed, though the company’s CEO told local media they can be souped up with various types of cameras, thermal sensors, even gas-detecting equipment.
Prototypes were deployed in September at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to provide advance surveillance of an airfield during an Advanced Battle Management System exercise, and have also been used during the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Subterranean Challenge, a competition to use robotics to infiltrate underground military areas.
Despite their apparent peaceful function, the notion of an infrared-equipped autonomous robot dog on the loose is unlikely to put Black Mirror fans’ minds at ease, especially when they start barking orders.
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