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According to The Verge and France Ouest, Boston Dynamics’ robotic dog Spot was one of several robots studied by the French army at training sessions at a military school in the north-west of France. It was used during a two-day training session to “measuring the added value of robots in combat action,” according to school commandant Jean-Baptiste Cavalier.
The experiments were designed to get students thinking about how robots could be used in potential battle scenarios. The students devised three offensive and defensive missions, with Spot mainly serving as a reconnaissance platform. Students conducted the scenarios without and then with the assistance of the robots.Other bots deployed were a remote-controlled tank-like vehicle called OPTIO-X20 armed with a cannon and Barakuda, an armor-plated wheeled drone designed to provide cover to advancing soldiers.
According to reports, the robots hindered the action but made troops secure, with one soldier claiming that he died in the first exercise without Spot but survived the second due to the robot’s reconnaissance. Spot’s battery life was allegedly a problem, as he ran out of power in the middle of one workout.
The robots were loaned to the army by European distributor Shark Robotics and Nexter Group, according to a tweet by the military school Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan. Spot manufacturer Boston Robotics said it knew that its robots were being used by the French government and military, but it had not been alerted about this specific exercise.
Boston Dynamics’ early robotics, like Atlas, were financed by the US military’s DARPA arm, but the firm has gradually distanced itself from its military links. According to the company’s existing terms and conditions, they must not be used to “to harm or intimidate any person or animal, as a weapon, or to enable any weapon.”
Still, Boston Robotics isn’t necessarily against using robots to take soldiers out of harm’s way, the company said, and is still evaluating that idea of using robots for reconnaissance and other more passive duties. The company’s rival Ghost Robotics’ Spot-like bots have already been deployed by the US Army to patrol Air Force installations.