Axon to halt taser drone project after ethics board resigns in protest

Axon to halt taser drone project after ethics board resigns in protest

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The Arizona-based weapons company Axon Enterprise Inc. said on Sunday that it’s no longer going ahead with the development of a taser-equipped drone after most of its ethics board resigned over the matter.

The company, which sells weapons technology for the military and the police, had announced the idea of developing such a machine, saying that a taser drone could be useful to police in school shootings — one might “help prevent the next Uvalde, Sandy Hook or Columbine,” said the company.

“We are officially beginning development of a remotely operated, nonlethal drone system,” Chief Executive Rick Smith said last week. “Now is the time to make this technology a reality — and to begin a robust public discussion around how to ethically introduce non-lethal drones into schools. We will #StopShootings.”

Immediately, members of the ethics board aired concerns about a taser drone flying over neighborhoods mostly populated by ethnic minorities, not to mention drones flying in classrooms containing children. It seems Smith didn’t see it that way.

“This is an idea that should get into the public’s consciousness while our minds are open to it and I felt if I wait another six months, the world is going to change and people are going to forget this pain and we’re going to see a shift in sentiments where people are going to focus a lot more on what could go wrong, rather than the pain of this problem we need to solve,” said Smith. Axon’s stock price rose after he made the proposal.

Barry Friedman, a professor who was part of the company’s ethics board called the idea “crackpot.” He said that drones can’t open doors, so unless you have them circling in the air in classrooms all over the U.S., then they are not going to be of any use. The possibility of taser drones in every classroom he said was “insane” and a “dangerous and fantastical idea.” He and other members of the board “begged” the company not to go ahead with development, but it seems it took their resignations for the Axon to take them seriously.

Nine of 12 members quit before the company had an about-face. “In light of feedback, we are pausing work on this project and refocusing to further engage with key constituencies to fully explore the best path forward,” Smith said in a statement soon after.

Photo: BarbaraLN/Flickr

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