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French Soldiers Train With Robot Dog in Combat Exercise

The robots’ execution time, aggressiveness, and vulnerabilities were evaluated.

A four-legged robot recently took part in a two-day military exercise alongside French soldiers.

The Boston Dynamics robot, nicknamed Spot, was “apparently” used for reconnaissance missions during the exercise, The Verge reported.

Eighty students of the Ecole Militaire InterArmes, a military training school in Brittany, took part in the exercise involving a range of automated technology.

The “applied research exercise,” organized by French military school École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, was aimed at measuring the contribution of robots during a military operation, wrote Ouest-France.

The robot’s execution time, aggressiveness, and vulnerabilities were evaluated during the exercise, the French news outlet added.

Three Military Tasks

The exercise involved four trainees being assigned three tasks: “An offensive action with the capture of a crossroad, a defensive action by day then by night, and an action of urban combat,” said Gérard de Boisboisse, an engineer at CREC (Coëtquidan Schools Research Center), to Ouest-France.

The trainees were required to finish the tasks twice: first without any help from the robots, and then with the help of several robots to evaluate the differences, Ouest-France wrote citing Boisboisse.

Mixed Results

The results of the exercise were found to be mixed. One of the participants, Sub-lieutenant and project manager Julien, was quoted by Ouest-France as saying that he survived an urban combat scenario when he had Spot on reconnaissance duty. And when without the quadruped robot, “I was killed.”

Julien observed that the robots slowed the speed of the trainees and that Spot “found itself short of energy in the middle of the assault.”

The exercise planners summarized the task results saying that although the robots did slow the operation, it helped them to avoid casualties.

Apart from Spot, the exercise included Nexter’s ULTRO, a wheeled “robot mule”; OPTIO 20, a remote-controlled vehicle with tank treads and autocannon; the NERVA unmanned ground vehicle, and Barakuda, a multipurpose wheeled unmanned ground vehicle that can provide mobile cover to soldiers with attached armored plating, The Verge reported.

Ethical Concerns  

Reacting to the news of Spot being used in the military exercise, Boston Dynamics’ vice president of business development Michael Perry told The Verge that the robot was not directly sourced from the US firm and had been supplied by a European distributor, Shark Robotics.

Perry explained that the company was not informed in advance about the robot’s use in the military exercise and that Boston Dynamics does not allow its robots to be armed.

Spot’s terms and conditions also forbid it from being used “to harm or intimidate any person or animal, as a weapon, or to enable any weapon.”

On the use of Spot in the military exercise, Perry told the news outlet: “We’re learning about it as you are,” and added: “We’re not clear on the exact scope of this engagement.”

However, as far as non-weaponized deployments of the robots are concerned, Perry sounded cautiously optimistic: “We think that the military, to the extent that they do use robotics to take people out of harm’s way, we think that’s a perfectly valid use of the technology.”

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