Robots Like the MARCbot-IV Might Kill More Than Just the Dallas Shooter

Police could use lethal robots more often in the future.

Military robot manufacturers smell blood in the water.

The companies that produce the robots used to detect bombs, scout dangerous buildings, and perform other functions for the military are keen on producing similar devices for use by police departments across the United States.

That news comes shortly after Dallas police used an explosive attached to a military bomb-disposal robot to kill the suspect in a July 7 ambush that killed five officers and left another seven wounded.

“Just like you have a laptop in every squad car and cameras in every squad car, you would have a small robot, not an EOD robot, but a small robot in every squad car and maybe that thing has a taser device on it, or some other less-than-lethal capability,” Endeavor Robotics CEO Sean Bielat told Defense One. “And maybe that’s used to approach a motorist at night when a cop doesn’t want to go up and approach with their hand on their holster. Maybe the robot goes up instead.”

Dallas police stand watch near the scene where Dallas police officers were shot and killed on July 7, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.

Getty Images / Ron Jenkins

Those robots might start non-lethal — or, because Tasers sometimes kill their targets, less-lethal — but could quickly be repurposed like the Dallas robot. It was designed to safely defuse bombs in war zones; attach an explosive to it, though, and it swiftly turns deadly in Dallas.

“We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said on July 8. “Other options would have exposed our officers in grave danger.” Better to approach the shooting suspect with a robot that can be replaced than to ask officers to risk their lives to try to kill or capture the suspect themselves.

That’s part of the promise of autonomous killer robots — and part of the reason why the United Nations convened a panel of experts to decide if it should ban them. Perhaps these talks should expand to include robots that weren’t designed to kill.

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