not control physical objects—in the latter case, a display may be in error (or indicate an error), whereas in the former case, the physical part of a system (such as a robotically controlled gun) may kill friendly troops.

3.1.2 Possible Military Applications

Technologies for autonomous systems are the basis for a wide variety of real-world operational systems. Today, robots are available to clean pools and gutters, to vacuum and/or wash floors, and to mow lawns. Robotic dogs serve as personal companions to some children. Robots perform a variety of industrial assembly line tasks, such as precision welding. A number of commercial robots also have obvious military applications as well—robots for security patrolling at home have many of the capabilities that robots for surveillance might need to help guard a military facility, and self-driving automobiles are likely to have many similarities to self-driving military trucks. In a military context, robots also conduct long-range surveillance and reconnaissance operations, disarm bombs, and perform a variety of other functions. In addition, these robots may operate on land, in the air, or on and under the sea.

Perhaps the most controversial application of autonomous systems is equipping such systems with lethal capabilities that operate under human control. Even more controversially, some systems have lethal capabilities that can be directed without human intervention. Some of these systems today include:2

• A South Korean robot that provides either an autonomous lethal or nonlethal response in an automatic mode rendering it capable of making the decision on its own.

• iRobot, which provides Packbots capable of tasering enemy combatants; some are also equipped with the highly lethal MetalStorm grenade-launching system.

• The SWORDS platform in Iraq and Afghanistan, which can carry lethal weaponry (M240 or M249 machine guns, or a .50 caliber rifle). A new Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS) version is in development.

• Stationary robotic gun-sensor platforms that Israel has considered deploying along the Gaza border in automated kill zones, with machine guns and armored folding shields.


2 Ronald C. Arkin, unpublished briefing to the committee on January 12, 2012, Washington, D.C.; and Ronald C. Arkin, “Governing Lethal Behavior,” Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Human Robot Interaction, ACM Publishing, New York, 2008.

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