After a lone gunman killed five police officers and wounded seven others at a peaceful protest rally in downtown Dallas, the Dallas Police Department used a Remotec Andros F5 bomb disposal robot to detonate a one-pound package of C4 plastic explosive (plus the detonating cord) near the suspect, killing him.
This unprecedented use of a police robot took place after four hours of negotiations with the suspect broke down and gunfire resumed.
“We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the subject was,” said Dallas Police Chief David Brown. “Other options would have exposed our officers to danger.”
While the deadly use of the Andros F5 undoubtedly saved the lives of more Dallas police officers, it did raise some ethical questions on the use of law enforcement devices. Bomb disposal robots are designed and engineered for surveillance, to investigate suspicious packages and to safely detonate explosive devices. They’re not an offensive weapon. That doesn’t mean that the operator can’t improvise when necessary. There have been a couple of cases when police have used robots to deliver non-lethal “chemical munitions” such as in Albuquerque and Tennessee. The California Highway Patrol even used one to deliver a pizza to help end a standoff.
And while there have been cases of U.S. military personnel using robots to deliver explosive devices in Iraq, this is the first time that a domestic law enforcement agency has used a robot as a lethal offensive weapon on U.S. soil. In science fiction, robots have commonly been portrayed as weapons of law enforcement or war. That portrayal has now become a reality due in part to the Internet of Things.
The Andros F5 is no longer sold by Remotec, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman. However, the specs for the current F6 model show it to be a multi-function robot with a variety of features including a manipulator arm with four points of articulation, a gripper with 360˚ of rotation and a 24-inch extendable camera mount. With quick-release all-terrain tires and articulated tracks for climbing stairs, the F6 can go almost anywhere.