Boston Dynamics pledges not to weaponize its general-purpose robots

In an open letter signed by five other leading robotics companies, Boston Dynamics warned that “untrustworthy” people could use advanced mobile robots to harm others.

While the new generation of robots would provide “great benefit” to society as co-workers in industry and companions in homes, they also had the potential for misuse, said the open letter.

“Untrustworthy people could use them to invade civil rights or to threaten, harm, or intimidate others,” said the letter. Agility Robotics, ANYbotics, Clearpath Robotics, Open Robotics, and Unitree Robotics signed the letter, in addition to Boston Dynamics.

The letter said that adding weapons to increasingly accessible and advanced robots “raises new risks of harm and serious ethical issues.” It could also harm public trust in the technology that could otherwise bring “tremendous” benefits to society, it said.

“We now feel renewed urgency in light of the increasing public concern in recent months caused by a small number of people who have visibly publicized their makeshift efforts to weaponize commercially available robots,” the letter said.

A video of a four-legged robot similar to those developed by China-based Unitree Robotics, one of the letter's signatories, went viral this summer after someone in Russia mounted a machine gun on it.

“We pledge that we will not weaponize our advanced-mobility general-purpose robots or the software we develop that enables advanced robotics and we will not support others to do so. When possible, we will carefully review our customers’ intended applications to avoid potential weaponization,” the letter read.

The companies behind the letter stressed they did not take issue with the use of their technologies by nations and government agencies “to defend themselves and uphold their laws.”

It was reported in the summer that the US Army agreed that one of its dog-like Spot robots, developed by Boston Dynamics, should be sent to Ukraine to clean up mines. Earlier this spring, the robot pup was also spotted training with the French troops.

“We call on policymakers to work with us to promote safe use of these robots and to prohibit their misuse,” the letter said, urging other organizations, developers, and researchers to join their pledge.

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