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The potential use of robot dogs in the military was recently unveiled during a military exercise. 

Spot, the quadruped robot built by Boston Dynamics, has appeared alongside soldiers during military exercises carried out by the French army. The robot was apparently being used for reconnaissance during a two-day training exercise.

Spot was reportedly one of a number of robots being tested by students from France’s École Militaire Interarmes (Combined Arms School), with the intention of assessing the usefulness of robots on future battlefields.

The 70lb Spot (31kg) is equipped with cameras and can be remote controlled, with its four legs allowing it to navigate terrain that would challenge wheeled or treaded robots. To date, it’s been used to remotely survey a number of environments, from construction sites to factories and underground mines.

Was Spot designed also for military applications? Boston Dynamics representative told that the robot had been supplied by a European distributor, Shark Robotics, and that the US firm had not been notified about this particular use. The company says it was aware that its robots were being used with the French government, including the military.

During the two-day deployment, soldiers ran a number of scenarios, including an offensive action capturing a crossroads, defensive actions during night and day, and an urban combat test. Each scenario was performed using just humans and then using humans and robots together to see what difference the machines made. The robots reportedly slowed down operations but helped keep troops safe. 

Spot’s appearance on simulated battlefields raises questions about where the robot will be deployed in future. Boston Dynamics has a long history of developing robots for the US army, but as it’s moved into commercial markets it’s distanced itself from military connections. Spot is still being tested by a number of US police forces, but Boston Dynamics has always stressed that its machines will never be armed. 

Militaries around the world are increasingly pushing robots onto the battlefield. Remotely operated drones have been the most significant deployment to date, but other use cases — including robots that can scout, survey, and patrol — are also being tested. Robotic quadrupeds similar to Spot built by rival firm Ghost Robotics are currently being tested by the US Air Force as replacements for stationary surveillance cameras.