Developer Taser Axon AXON,
said this week it was working on building drones armed with electric stun weapons that could fly into schools and “help prevent the next Uvalde, Sandy Hook or Columbine.” But his own tech advisers were quick to call the idea a dangerous fantasy.
The publicly traded company, which sells Tasers and police body cameras, last year pitched the idea for a new police drone product to its Artificial Intelligence Ethics Committee, a group of experts. respected experts in technology, policing and privacy.
Some of them expressed reservations about arming drones in over-policed communities of color. But they didn’t expect Axon to announce Thursday that it wants to send these Taser-equipped drones into classrooms to prevent mass shootings by immobilizing an intruder shooter.
Axon founder and CEO Rick Smith said Friday that his company was “excited” after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and wanted to check the public’s opinion of the technology that could to help. “We haven’t launched a product,” he said in an online forum on Friday. “We launched an idea into the public debate.”
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Axon’s stock price rose on the news. But the announcement angered members of the ethics committee, some of whom are now likely to resign in protest.
“This particular idea is crazy,” said Barry Friedman, a New York University law professor who serves on Axon AI’s ethics committee. “Drones cannot fly through closed doors. The physical properties of the universe still hold. So unless you have a drone in every classroom in America, which sounds crazy, the idea just won’t work.
Friedman said it was a “dangerous and fantastic idea” that went far beyond the proposal for a Taser-equipped police drone whose board members – some of whom were former or current police officers – had debated in recent months.
“We begged the company not to,” Friedman said of the company’s announcement. “It was unnecessary and shameful.”
Board members who spoke to The Associated Press said they were taken aback by the proposed school drone — which they were only made aware of earlier this week — and concocted a unanimous statement of concern outlining Axon’s decision as “deeply regrettable”. The company tweeted the dissent from the board shortly after its own announcement on Thursday.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there were any resignations,” said another member of the ethics committee, Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington. “I think every board member has to decide if they want to stay involved.”
Both Friedman and Calo described this week’s process as a sharp reversal of the respectful relationship that Axon executives have had with the board in recent years over controversial topics such as facial recognition – which Axon decided not to use in its body cameras – and automated license plate readers. .
“Sometimes the company takes our advice and sometimes it doesn’t,” Friedman said. “What is important is that this happens after thoughtful discussion and coordination. It was thrown out the window here.
Axon Founder and CEO Rick Smith said he first shared his idea of using technology to stop mass shootings in a graphic novel he wrote called ‘The End of Killing’. .
“Now my company is working to make the idea a reality,” he wrote Friday in an “Ask Me Anything” chat on the online forum Reddit. Smith acknowledged that “drones in schools can seem crazy,” but then answered detailed questions about them. They could pass through the school’s air vents, he said, and perch on doors and walls near ceilings. It might be a “good thing” if a gunman tried to shoot one down, as it would distract from trying to kill people.
Smith told a Reddit user that Axon was “absolutely not” trying to capitalize on recent tragedies to attract investors. He noted the advisory board’s disagreements, but said the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas — and what he described as misguided proposals to arm teachers with guns — forced him to going public with the drone idea to align a “much wider range of voices”.
“I couldn’t sit idly by and allow the conversation to just happen internally at Axon,” he wrote.