A video started circulating on Twitter Thursday of a Boston Dynamics-style robot dog firing a submachine gun into targets amid a snowy backdrop. This type of robot dog (it doesn’t seem like the robot in the video is a Boston Dynamics Spot, just looks alot like it) is famous for dancing, but now appears to have fulfilled every warning given by journalists and analysts. It’s got a gun and it’s ready to kill.
A lot of questions remain. First, the robot dog doesn’t seem to be able to handle the recoil of the gun well. As it fires its rounds, the barrel trails up and the dog has to take a minute to get its balance back. We also don’t know if the dog is firing on its own or if, and this is more likely, someone is off-camera pulling the trigger remotely.
The robot’s feet, various ports, and its front are completely different from Boston Dynamics’ Spot. There’s dozens of knockoffs of the Boston Dynamics dog selling on the international market. The one in the video appears to be a UnitreeYusu “technology dog” selling on AliExpress for about $3,000. The feet, port placement, and joint coverings are all the same.
The robot also has strips of Velcro on either of its flanks. The left flank bears a Russian flag and the other appears with a wolf’s head. In another video on the channel, a man wears a similar patch on his arm. It appears to be a wolf’s head insignia commonly associated with Russian Special Operations Forces or Spetsnaz. That doesn’t mean that Spetsnaz is using armed robot dogs, as pretty much anyone can buy a similar patch online in various places.
The gun is also Russian. It appears to be a PP-19 Vityaz, a submachine gun based on the AK-74 design. As the dog wanders around and fires, it sometimes moves in front of an armored personnel carrier with a unique triangular door. That’s a BDRM-2, a Russian armored car that’s been spotted recently in Ukraine.
Finally, there’s the account the video originally appeared on. Before making its way to Twitter, the video of the dog was posted to the YouTube account of Alexander Atamov on March 22, 2022. Atamov is listed on his LinkedIn profile as the founder of “HOVERSURF” and his Facebook page lists him as living in Moscow. He posted a picture of the robot dog on March 21. According to Facebook’s translation of his post, he called the dog “Skynet.”
Boston Dynamics has said it won’t sell its dogs to people who intend to use them as weapons. But that doesn’t stop people from doing questionable things with them. The NYPD has sent them on patrol in apartment buildings and cops in Hawaii used them to take the temperatures of its homeless population during the pandemic. But no one has, that we know of, strapped a gun to the roof of one.
Other companies certainly are however. Most notably, the defense contractor Ghost Robotics showed off a robot dog with a gun pod built onto its back. The company that made the gun and the robot both said that a person would have to operate the weapons manually.
That’s a small comfort in a world where people are strapping guns to the back of robots that can be purchased online for a few thousand dollars.