Have you seen the nightmare fuel tank? currently in circulation around the internet – the video in which a robot dog fires an assault rifle? I have good and bad news.
The good news: It’s probably just a dangerous toy cobbled together by a Russian hoverbike startup.
Shame traced back the video to a Russian hoverbike company founder named Alexander Atamanov, who uploaded both the video and a high resolution image of the gun-dog-bot in March. Looking at both the bot itself, it’s not clear it’s more than a gun strapped to it 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 just slapped a few things he liked into a new toy.
Why do I think that? First, it’s clearly his: if you look closely at Facebook’s high-resolution image, you can see that the bot has a clear patch with a white wolf on its side — and a word above it. The word is his last name: “Atamanov.”
Also in 2019, the founder of Hoversurf posted a video of herself plopping off at the firing range with a gun that looks almost identical to the one on the bot – and with the exact same patch on his shoulder. And in February 2022, a month before he posted the dog bone video, he also posted a photo of himself playing with what appears to be the same Unitree robot, only with a coffee cup instead of a gun.
As he continues scrolling through his Facebook page, he also seems to enjoy playing with military equipment such as APCs and attack helicopters. When you add in how impractical this particular gundog combination seems – these kinds of robots are programmed to naturally perform all sorts of balanced movements and yet it doesn’t seem to compensate for the basic recoil – it seems much more likely that he has a few of his interests together, and less likely that he is seriously using a weapon of war.
On the other hand, one of this man’s rivals in the flying, rideable space is Kalashnikov, the company behind the AK-47…
Atamanov did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The bad news: A robot dog with a gun is something that already exists.
I understand as a video of a dog firing a fully automatic weapon sends a shiver down your spine. Still, a better time to start worrying would have been last October, when a company actually announced a robotic dog with a gun built specifically for the task.
Another possible moment: when it was announced last September that Iran’s Best Nuclear Scientist Was Killed by a Killer Robot which was remotely controlled by a sniper more than 1,000 miles away.
Or last April, when the French military began testing Boston Dynamics’ robot dog Spot in combat scenarios, albeit with no apparent dog-mounted weapons.
Or one of the times we’ve seen little robots without dog paws – such as small drones, for example – are equipped with weapons. The world is gradually coming to realize that the technology really already exists to turn robots into deadly weapons, and the really scary thought is that they could start killing autonomously, if they haven’t already started it. It seems almost inevitable at this point, dog or not.
But there’s something particularly dastardly about man’s best friend who may turn against us, I admit. black mirror brilliantly explored that idea nearly five years ago, and every time we see a robot dog gain a new skill, like opening a door, it’s hard to imagine what the horror movie could be like.