Space Force takes robot patrol dogs for a walk

Robot dogs raise important questions about future of autonomous security.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer on
U.S. Space Force photo by Senior Airman Samuel Becker

If you happened to be sneaking onto Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in late July, you wouldn't have made it far. Last month, Space Force conducted a demonstration where two robot dogs built by Ghost Robotics conducted patrols in advance of potential broader adoption of the platforms for critical perimeter security.

The robot dogs are known as Vision 60 Q-UGVs, for quadruped unmanned ground vehicles. Bearing more than a passing similarity to Boston Dynamics' YouTube sensation quadrupeds, they are designed as task agnostic roving sensor platforms capable of detecting a variety of threats. Ghost Robotics describes its Vision 60 model as a "mid-sized high-endurance, agile and durable all-weather ground drone for use in a broad range of unstructured urban and natural environments for defense, homeland and enterprise applications."

The Air Force has also previously tested the platforms for patrol purposes, signaling the broad interest in unmanned systems for routine tasks on U.S. military bases.

Security is just one potential application for these ground drones. Designed as a task-agnostic autonomous platform, robots like Vision 60 and Boston Dynamics' Spot have utility beyond security and defense, extending into areas like pipeline, infrastructure inspection, and search and rescue. Boston Dynamics has already made its signature robot available to businesses and research institutions, where they are used in power generation facilities, factory floors, and construction sites, to name a few.


A Ghost Robotics, Vision 60 Quadruped Unmanned Ground Vehicle (Q-UGV) is operated during a demo for 45th Security Forces Squadron at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., July 28, 2022. The Q-UGV effectively demonstrated how manual and repetitive tasks can be automated using ground-based robots. 

U.S. Space Force photo by Senior Airman Samuel Becker

In one deployment, a construction firm in Canada used a Spot robot to automate the capture of thousands of images weekly on a 500,000-square-foot building site, creating an ongoing record of progress and enabling the builders to identify growing problems and inefficiencies early.

Defense is a lucrative target for developers, and Ghost has successfully marketed its robotic quadrupeds to the Department of Defense.

"Our goal is to make our Q-UGVs an indispensable tool and continuously push the limits to improve its ability to walk, run, crawl, climb and eventually swim in complex environments that our customers must operate in, day in and day out," according to a company statement. "Ultimately, our robot is made to keep our warfighters, workers and K9s out of harm's way."

Significantly, the Cape Canaveral test utilized the robots in remotely controlled and autonomous scenarios, wherein the platforms were patrolled without direct human intervention. 

At present, these platforms remain non-weaponized and confined to advanced sensing. It's not a far leap, however, to imagine a weaponized deployment, raising significant ethical and legal questions about the autonomous use of force and the potential for keeping humans out of the decision-making loop.

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