Robot dogs are finding new homes in Washington’s security establishment, as a Philadelphia-based firm is building new military companions with the goal of keeping service members and other personnel away from danger.
Ghost Robotics showed off its four-legged creatures at a military expo in D.C. this week. The firm recently hired lobbyists and has been spotted conducting demonstrations in Northern Virginia.
The robotic dogs’ ability to bite, bark, and smell goes beyond what people expect from man’s best friend — these dogs can carry weapons, communicate via a speaker, and detect biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiation threats.
“The robot is a tool, right? It’s really a tool for force multiplication; for keeping humans out of harm’s way,” Ghost Robotics CEO Gavin Kenneally said in an interview.
Mr. Kenneally’s team maneuvered its “quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicle” using a Samsung tablet at the sprawling Modern Day Marine exhibition in Washington, D.C., where government and security customers shop and test the latest equipment offered by a few hundred vendors.
The robot dogs can climb, crawl, walk, and run, moving at a maximum speed of about ten feet per second. Mr. Keneally said the robots are also capable of going underwater, and Ghost Robotics can craft software teaching it how to doggy paddle through water.
Assembling and disassembling the robots for repair takes approximately 15 minutes, according to Mr. Keneally, who said the robot’s endurance and low level of noise create advantages over other drones and robots.
“What we’re trying to do is have all humans further from harm’s way and have the robot be the thing that goes up ahead and provides [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] or inspection or security, or whatever needs to happen,” he said.
Ghost Robotics’ handouts for customers list a series of U.S. and allied nations as partners, including the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps., Department of Homeland Security, and Special Operations Command; Singapore’s Ministry of Defense; and the Australian Army, among others.
In February, DHS announced it is using the 100-pound robot dogs to help Customs and Border Protection agents patrol the southwest border in a region of harsh landscapes and “temperature extremes.”
Mr. Kenneally said Ghost Robotics keeps its government partners confidential unless they acknowledge the relationship, and he demurred when asked about his robot dogs being spotted outside the Virginia office of In-Q-Tel, the CIA-contracted venture capital fund, earlier this year.
“We’re now starting to ramp up production,” Mr. Kenneally said. “And we’re seeing, for example on the Air Force side, we’re seeing one base turning into many bases as there’s more natural growth and people are seeing what the robot’s capable of.”
The Air Force said in 2020 that Tyndall Air Force Base and the 325th Security Forces Squadron worked with Ghost Robotics and would incorporate the robot dogs into their patrolling regiment.
Ghost Robotics’ website said the company has shipped more than 200 robots to more than 25 national security customers, and Mr. Kenneally said the number of robots his company is shipping is growing each week.
Ghost Robotics, which started in 2015, hired Washington lobbyists from the firm K&L Gates last month as the company moved from its prototyping stage into its late-stage piloting and production phase. The company’s previous CEO, Jiren Narendra Parikh, died in March and Mr. Keneally said the late CEO set the company up well for future success.
Mr. Keneally said the company wanted lobbyists to help get the word out about its product, and he said there are no approval issues or restrictions on shipping the robot dogs anywhere.
He said Ghost Robotics only sells to the U.S. and its allies. He declined to specify the price of a robot dog, saying customers must request a quote from Ghost Robotics directly so the firm can tailor a robot package best suited to their needs. (Forbes reported in February that the robot costs about $150,000, with specialized add-ons increasing the final price). A robot dog’s payload may include weapons, sensors, aerial drones, or other tools.
The future of Ghost Robotics will likely extend beyond computerized canines. The company foresees a “future of next-generation mobile robots beyond quadrupeds, including human enhancement systems, manipulation systems, and futuristic hybrid mobility platforms,” according to its website.
In Ghost Robotics’ vision of the future, the suit worn by the comic book character Iron Man more neatly resembles reality than science fiction. Mr. Keneally said Ghost Robotics’ technology in its robots has application for developing prosthetics and exosuits, which are wearable robotic tools that enhance human functions.
While he said the company has not yet done work in prosthetics and exosuits, Mr. Kenneally said Ghost Robotics may explore such new tools in the future.