Have you seen the tank of nightmare fuel currently circulating around the internet — the video where a robot dog fires an assault rifle? I’ve got good and bad news.
The good news: It’s probably just a dangerous toy cobbled together by a Russian hoverbike startup guy.
Vice traced the video back to a Russian hoverbike company founder named Alexander Atamanov, who uploaded both the video and a high-res image of the gun-dog-bot in March. Looking at both the bot itself, it’s not clear it’s anything more than a gun strapped to an existing Unitree dogbot. (It’s not clear if the bot even aims or fires the gun itself.) Looking at his larger Facebook history, it seems likely that he simply slapped together a couple of things he liked into a new toy.
Why do I think so? First, it’s clearly his: taking a close look at the high-res image from Facebook, you can see the bot has a distinct patch featuring a white wolf on its side — and above that, a word. The word is his last name: “Atamanov.”
Also, in 2019, the Hoversurf founder posted a video of himself plinking away at the range with a gun that looks nearly identical to the one mounted on the bot — and with the exact same patch on his shoulder. And in February 2022, a month before he posted the dog-bot video, he also posted a picture of himself playing with what appears to be the same Unitree robot, only holding a coffee cup instead of a gun.
Scrolling further through his Facebook page, he seems to enjoy playing with military equipment like APCs and attack helicopters, too. If you add how impractical this particular gun-dog combination seems — these kinds of robots are programmed to naturally perform all kinds of balanced motions and yet this one doesn’t seem to be compensating for basic recoil — it seems far more likely he slapped a couple of his interests together, and less likely he’s seriously purusing a weapon of war.
Then again, one of this guy’s rivals in the flying rideable space happens to be Kalashnikov, the company behind the AK-47…
Atamanov didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The bad news: A robot dog with a gun is a thing that already exists.
I understand if a video of a dog firing a fully automatic weapon sends a chill down your spine. Still, a better moment to begin worrying might have been last October, when a company actually announced a robot dog with a gun that’s purpose-built for the task.
Another possible moment: when it was revealed last September that Iran’s top nuclear scientist was assassinated by a killer robot that was remote controlled by a sniper over 1,000 miles away.
Or last April, when the French army started testing Boston Dynamics’ robot dog Spot in combat scenarios, admittedly without any obvious dog-mounted weaponry.
Or any of the times we’ve seen small robots without dog legs — like, say, small drones — get outfitted with weaponry. The world’s gradually coming to the realization that the technology really does already exist to turn robots into deadly weapons, and the really scary thought is that they could begin killing autonomously, if they haven’t already begun. It seems almost inevitable at this point, dog or no.
But there is something particularly dastardly about man’s best friend potentially turning on us, I admit. Black Mirror explored that idea brilliantly almost five years ago, and every time we see a robodog getting a new ability like opening a door, it’s hard for me not to imagine how the horror movie might play out.