They feared the shock drones would stun innocent students or be misused by hackers, vandals or the police. Even when used appropriately, they may not be enough to take down a shooter. And some noted that the problem at Uvalde was not a lack of firepower: Nineteen officers had waited outside the classroom door for 47 minutes, mistakenly believing the children inside were no longer in danger.
“It’s such an obviously bad idea to use these in the context of schools. I mean, it’s absurd,” said Ryan Calo, one of nine members of Axon’s artificial intelligence ethics advisory board, who resigned to protest the company’s pursuit of the idea. “You can’t address these terrible national tragedies… by tossing a taser at a drone.”
Critics said the idea spotlighted the security theater that routinely colors the nation’s response to mass shootings, promising an unfounded sense of security rather than actual security for a tragedy that is far more common in the United States than anywhere else in the world happened .
Instead of focusing on guns, they argue, companies have pushed lawmakers to focus on everything else, selling bulletproof backpacks, school surveillance software, facial recognition scanners, and other systems they argue are reactive, problematic, and ineffective. to stop future massacres.
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Axon, which makes a variety of tasers under the general “energy weapons” heading, declined to make any executives available for interview. Rick Smith, its founder and leader, said in a statement on Sunday that the project’s response has “given us a deeper understanding of the complex and important considerations” surrounding shock drones in schools, adding: “I recognize that our passion for finding new solutions to ending mass shootings led us to act quickly to share our ideas.”
Although he had previously hinted that the system could be operational in two years, he said in the statement that the idea is “a long way off” and the company has yet to investigate whether such drones are “at all viable”.
Smith added that it was “regrettable” that board members resigned before the company had “a chance to address their technical questions” and that it will continue to “seek different perspectives” to advise them on other technology ideas.
But in a statement Monday, the resigning board members said the drone had “no realistic chance of solving the mass shooting problem Axon is now prescribing it for, just distracting society from real solutions.”
“Prior to Axon’s announcement, we asked the company to pull out,” the members said. “But the company rushed forward in a way that many of us felt was trading in the tragedy of the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings. … [It] is more than any of us can endure.”
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Axon has become one of the largest law enforcement contractors in the United States thanks to sales of body-worn cameras and taser guns that fire electroshock barbs that can stun a person.
Axon advertises tasers as “less deadly,” though a USA Today investigation last year found more than 500 people died shortly after the shock. Police officers reaching for the pistol-shaped weapons have also mistakenly drawn their handguns, including in the deadly shooting of Daunte Wright last year.
The company convened its AI ethics committee in 2018 after considering, and eventually declining, enabling facial recognition on its body cameras, which critics say could lead to dangerous misidentifications or automated surveillance of protests or other public events. “We don’t want to create an Orwellian state just to make money,” Smith said in an interview with the Washington Post at the time.
The advice of the board is not binding and the company is free to ignore it. But its independent mix of paid technical and legal experts thought they’d had some productive conversations with Axon over the years as the company pursued license plate scanners and other surveillance tools, said Calo, a University of Washington professor of technology and technology researched right.
About a year ago, Axon asked the board if shock drones could be used ethically in a scenario where officers needed long-range skills and feared for their lives. After deliberations, the board said in a statement that the company would have to put in place safeguards to make the idea even “vaguely plausible”.
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The board voted last month that the company should not pursue the idea, saying the armed drones could increase the frequency of police operations “in patrolled and communities of color.” Members were preparing a full report, to be published this autumn, on whether the project should be marketed to the police at all.
Members were then surprised when Smith on Thursday announced that the company was “officially beginning development” of a shock drone that could be used in a much broader role to “stop” school shootings, with the promise of “incapacitating threats in less than 60 seconds.”
in one video announcement Featuring slow-motion footage of a drone firing a dart, Smith said the company has already built test systems and begun the design phase for a system that he predicted would take about two years to create. In concept renders released by the company, the quadcopter drone is shown with four cameras, a dart fire barrel, a speaker, and a “precision aiming laser.”
“I’m tired of waiting for politicians to solve the problem. So we’re going to solve it,” Smith said. “We will do that.”
Smith has promoted the idea for years, even including it in the graphic novel The End of Killing, which depicts a drone shooting down a gunman rampaging through a daycare. And in a question-and-answer session on Reddit the day after the announcement, Smith said he knew the idea “might sound crazy” but that it offered some advantages over “today’s solution” for gunfight response: “a local person with a gun.”
License plate scanners should bring peace of mind. Instead, they tore the neighborhood apart.
The shock drones, he said, would be installed in ceiling-mounted “launch stations” like smoke detectors and shielded to prevent “kids throwing things at them.” Schools, he said, could install “simple, inexpensive vents” over doors to allow the drones to fly into confined spaces, although he also acknowledged the idea could pose “some fire safety issues” due to the smoke vents.
The drones could fire a payload of up to four shock probes more than 40 feet, he said, and provide a sustained stream to incapacitate an attacker long enough for nearby people to kill them or take their weapon. The drones would be small and difficult to shoot at, he wrote, and “after we ran out of arrows, we could ram the drone into someone to physically distract them.”
Schools or law enforcement agencies, he said, would pay an estimated fee of about $1,000 a year per drone, and the company would only sell them in markets where “they would not be misused.”
The Federal Aviation Administration banned anyone from flying a drone with a dangerous weapon in 2018. But Smith said such “legal restrictions” could be resolved over time; Taser guns and body cameras were also illegal in some states before Axon started marketing them.
The company has “a long history of working in situations where the laws didn’t support our technology — and then did it when people understood what we were trying to do,” he wrote.
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In the Reddit session, Smith was asked how he would deal with backlash from parents who didn’t want flying shock machines near their kids. “Many parents would probably find this situation more comfortable than an armed guard stationed at the school,” he said.
But the response on Reddit has been overwhelming. Some commenters feared the drones would be used to punish students, break up fights or police protests, or lead to unintended consequences, such as more people being shot after the gunman was shocked.
Others questioned whether Axon is using the emotion of the moment to attract investors or sell a product. They also said the proposal was a sad comment on America’s weak response to a national crisis.
“The fact that we’re thinking about drones in schools, whether the motivation is capitalism, parental instinct, or both, means our society is already pretty sick,” wrote one commenter. Wrote another: “We really love tackling symptoms instead of causes don’t we?”