A coalition of robotics developers is calling on users not to weaponize robots. The robotics developers wrote a public letter in preparation for upcoming laws that make manufacturers responsible for the damage third parties cause with their technology.

The letter is signed by Boston Dynamics and five other leading robotics developers. Boston Dynamics is the developer of Spot, a popular robot dog. “We believe that advanced mobile robots will provide tremendous benefits to society”, the organization said. “However, in recent months, a small number of people have threatened public trust in this technology with makeshift efforts to weaponize commercially available robots.”

“Adding weapons to robots that are widely available to the public and capable of navigating in locations where people live and work raises both serious risks of harm and ethical objections”, Boston Dynamics continued. “In response, we have spearheaded a coalition of industry leaders spanning six companies and three continents in pledging not to weaponize our robots or the software that enables their use.”

Boston Dynamics does not sell robots for unethical purposes, but that doesn’t stop third parties from copying and abusing the technology. In July 2022, a video surfaced of a robot dog with a mounted machine gun on its back. The robot wasn’t manufactured by Boston Dynamics, but the design has similarities. Multiple companies sell knockoff robot dogs on the international market. Robotics developers struggle to prevent abuse.

Liability

Parts of Boston Dynamic’s software are based on artificial intelligence (AI) technologies such as machine learning and deep learning. The technologies are common among robotics developers. On September 28, the European Commission presented the AI Liability Directive, a bill that aims to increase AI developers’ accountability for the misuse of AI. If the bill passes, it could become easier to hold organizations like Boston Dynamics accountable for incidents in which a third party misuses their technology to cause harm.

Robotics developers are expected to face increasing obligations to combat misuse. The letter by Boston Dynamics’ coalition is one way to prepare for the future. The organizations distanced themselves from unethical applications and notified policymakers that they’re willing to collaborate.

“We understand that our commitment alone is not enough to fully address these risks, and therefore we call on policymakers to work with us to promote the safe use of these robots and to prohibit their misuse”, the coalition said. “We also call on every organization, developer, researcher, and user in the robotics community to make similar pledges not to build, authorize, support, or enable the attachment of weaponry to such robots.”