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Automation Now

Dude, there has been a lot said lately about a police department employing robots with deadly force capabilities. And sure, the idea of it conjures images of Skynet, Cyberdyne Systems, and T-Series robots nonchalantly blowing people away, but the reality..
Jan 29, 2023

Dude, there has been a lot said lately about a police department employing robots with deadly force capabilities. And sure, the idea of it conjures images of Skynet, Cyberdyne Systems, and T-Series robots nonchalantly blowing people away, but the reality is less Hollywood than that. With the intention of these robots to be used in extraordinary circumstances such as terroristic threats and mass shooting events, space exists for a nuanced debate on their use. Since manufacturing has deep roots in the weapons sector, let’s take a deeper dive.

What’s Going On?

A police department recently authorized police robots to use deadly force in certain circumstances – namely mass shootings and terrorist attacks. However, the city’s board of supervisors voted unanimously to ban their use, sending the proposal back to committee for further discussion, so the issue will presumably return.

Automation has been used for military purposes for decades; in fact, automation was conceived for the manufacturing of weapons for the U.S. government. Robots can and have been used to help protect people in dangerous situations, as they do not risk responders’ lives.

Nothing New.

Six years ago, a shooter opened fire at a protest near a university in Texas. SWAT officers could not advance down the long hallway the shooter had retreated into without risking additional loss of life. I’m no tactician, but I believe the hallway in a situation like this is referred to as a “fatal funnel,” which sounds pretty no bueno. Then the bomb division of their SWAT team comes along with their explosive disposal robot. Sure, there was no bomb to dispose of, but there was a hostile threat that needed to be dealt with. So, they put a bomb on the robot and sent it down the hall. The bomb detonated and successfully neutralized the shooter. Some say this is the first time a robot has purposely been used with deadly force. I’d like to argue that it’s only the latest.

Automation Was Conceived in the Name of Weaponry.

If you haven’t been to the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vermont, I recommend you make the trip. Vermont is the best state in the union, and it’s beautiful year-round, so pick your favorite season. You won’t be sorry. I promise. The museum shows how our industry invented automation for the U.S. government in the name of small arms. More importantly, the automated manufacturing of firearms for our country’s military gave birth to the advanced manufacturing industry! Firearms at the time were all handmade and hand-fit. Parts for one gun could not work on another gun of the same design without a ton of custom and experienced manual labor. The military needed guns made faster, more reliably, and with interchangeable parts. You can thank military weapons for creating your job today.

That’s Automation Making Weapons — We’re Concerned About Robots Using Them!

Have you ever heard of the AIM-9X? This is a fire-and-forget homing missile launched from a fighter jet to shoot down an enemy bogey. The human pilot has to acquire a radar lock to target an enemy threat before the missile can be fired. The fighter jet pilot is essentially programming a robot weapon with the assistance of a radar targeting system, advanced avionics, a bunch of super-secret computers and software, and a high-speed/low-drag jet plane to deploy a suicide drone equipped with a rocket booster and a bomb. This is also basically any guided munition dating as far back as the Korean War era. The principle is the same with police use of robots with deadly force capabilities. You were totally cool with it in “Top Gun”!

What About Weaponized Robots Saving Lives? You Said They Could Save Lives!

They can and do! Allow me to introduce you to the close-in weapon system (CIWS) or “sea-wiz,” “see-wiz,” “Phalanx,” or “Goalkeeper.” Sometimes guided munitions are fired at boats or ground targets. With the fully autonomous CIWS, these incoming robots are shot out of the air by a robot equipped with a radar detection and targeting system … and a big ol’ Gatling-style autocannon that shoots around 65 explosive bullets per second until the incoming threat is destroyed. And all of that happens before any human realizes they were in danger. Robots save lives. 


If you have any questions about this information, please contact Stephen at slamarca@AMTonline.org. For more LaMarkable content, stream Seasons One and Two of “Road Trippin’ with Steve” now on IMTS.com/plus.

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Stephen LaMarca
Technology Analyst
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