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Taser-armed robots are in the works

July 02, 2007|From the Associated Press

BOSTON — RoboCops and robot soldiers got a little closer to reality last week as a maker of floor-cleaning automatons teamed with a stun-gun manufacturer to arm track-wheeled robots for the police and the Pentagon.

By adding Tasers to robots it makes for the military, Burlington, Mass.-based IRobot Corp. says it hopes to give soldiers and law enforcement officers a defensive, nonlethal tool.

But some observers fear that 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 IRobot, said notions of armed robots acting on their own were far beyond what the company envisioned 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 had developed a model that would be demonstrated at a Taser-hosted conference in Chicago on July 9 and 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.

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