Taser, IRobot Team Up to Arm Robots
Thursday, June 28, 2007; 11:04 PM
BOSTON -- RoboCops and robot soldiers got a little closer to reality Thursday as a maker of floor-cleaning automatons teamed up with a stun-gun manufacturer to arm track-wheeled 'bots for the police and the Pentagon.
By adding Tasers to robots it already makes for the military, iRobot Corp. says it hopes to give soldiers and law enforcement a defensive, non-lethal tool.
But some observers fear such developments could ultimately lead to robots capable of deciding on their own when to shoot and kill.
"It's one more step in that direction," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria, Va.-based military research organization.
"It is not the first step in that direction, but I think at some point toward the end of the next decade, you're going to start seeing RoboCops, or a Terminator," Pike said, referring to a pair of 1980s robot-themed sci-fi films. "We may see autonomous robots capable of inflicting lethal force."
Jim Rymarcsuk, vice president for business development at Burlington, Mass.-based iRobot, said notions of armed robots acting on their own are far beyond what the company envisions for the partnership announced Thursday with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International Inc.
"Right now, we have no plans to take any robot with a lethal-weapon approach to the market," Rymarcsuk said. "For this system, and all systems we have looked at, there is a human in the loop making the decisions. This in no way is giving the robot the capability to use force on its own."
Financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed. The companies said they have developed a model that will be demonstrated at a conference Taser is holding in Chicago on July 9-10. The model pairs iRobot's existing PackBot Explorer with the Taser X26 in what iRobot calls "the first robot of its kind with an on-board, integrated Taser payload."
There's no word when the system will be offered for sale, or for how much.
The system isn't entirely unprecedented. Foster-Miller Inc., a Waltham, Mass.-based rival of iRobot, already offers a version of its track-wheeled Talon robot that can be fitted with a Taser with laser-dot aiming capability.
The Taser, used by thousands of law enforcement agencies, is an electric stun gun designed to help officers subdue violent suspects without nightsticks or guns.
However, some critics contend the weapon can be deadly, particularly on suspects who use drugs or suffer from heart problems. Taser International and police counter that no weapon is risk-free, and that Tasers actually save lives by helping officers avoid more dangerous weapons.