The American Southwest border may soon become a place that is autonomously patrolled by robots.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced it would consider deploying autonomous robot dogs to the area, according to a DHS press release.
If the robots seem familiar it’s because they made headlines back in October, but those were carrying sniper rifles on their backs.
Robot dogs engineered for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection
According to the press release, Automated Ground Surveillance Vehicles, or the robot dogs, were specifically engineered by the research and development arm of the DHS, the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), in cooperation with advanced robotics firm Ghost Robotics for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Gavin Kenneally, the chief product officer at Ghost Robotics, said that the firm’s robot dog was bred for exactly the type of work that the CBP specializes in: “It is a rugged, quadruped robot. It traverses all types of natural terrain including sand, rocks, and hills, as well as human-built environments, like stairs. That’s why you want legs and not tracks.”
The end result is a high-precision 100-pound (45-kg) machine that could easily be linked up to artificial intelligence capabilities already in use on the battlefield with war drones and other state-of-the-art military equipment. The question that remains is whether such measures are really necessary.
According to the DHS, they absolutely are.
“Just like anywhere else, you have your standard criminal behavior, but along the border, you can also have human smuggling, drug smuggling, as well as smuggling of other contraband—including firearms or even potentially, WMD,” explained Agent Brett Becker of the CBP Innovation Team
“These activities can be conducted by anyone from just a lone individual, all the way up to transnational criminal organizations, terrorists or hostile governments—and everything in between.”
Becker added that border agents and officers have to deal with rugged terrain, high heat and humidity, and dangerous individuals who wish to do harm. S&T program manager Brenda Long explained that the new robot dogs are equipped to show a significant amount of mission adaptability making them an ideal fit for the CBP.
However, we can’t shake the feeling that their deployment is creating a dystopian future, one we are not sure is a completely safe one especially if the dogs are trained to operate autonomously. That is a capability we are not sure the robots yet have. Will this be the next stop for border control? If so, how can we trust machines with rifles? Time will tell how this situation evolves.