Last week the U.S. Marines got up close and personal with the Boston Dynamics Spot robot.

Military robotics developer Boston Dynamics, owned by Google X, is working on a walking, quadruped battle robot known as Spot. The latest version of the robot weighs around 70 kilograms, is electrically operated and moves around on 4 legs, writes Martyn Williams for IT World.

Wireless robot tested for combat capabilities

The robot is controlled remotely by an operator within a 500 meter range, and was put through its paces at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia. The tests were part of a Marines evaluation of how robotic technology could be used for military purposes.

Spot was tested over a number of different terrains, such as hills, woodlands and urban settings. Spot is reported to be more agile and quieter than its predecessors LS3 and Big Dog, also made by Boston Dynamics.

The benefits of combat robots are potentially huge, allowing combat operations to be undertaken without risking the loss of human life. Spot’s capabilities make it perfect for entering buildings ahead of human troops, scanning for threats.

Spot also boasts a LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) laser imaging sensor. Similar technology is used on Google’s self-driving cars, allowing them to view the world around them.

How long before robots are used in war?

The robot was tested by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the latter having provided funding in order to support the development of combat robots by Boston Dynamics.

Previous ideas on the use of robots in combat include automated pack mules, programmed to follow soldiers or travel to preset destinations while carrying equipment too heavy for the soldiers themselves.

“We want to continue to experiment with quadruped technology and find ways that this can be employed to enhance the Marine Corps warfighting capabilties,” said Capt. James Pineiro, the branch head for Marine Corps Warfighting Lab., in a press release.

While the use of combat robots in support roles could reduce the risk of the loss of human life, ethical implications would certainly come into play should a fully-automated robot be sent into battle. The concern is such that scientists have called for a pre-emptive ban on the development of such technology, which many believe could usher in a new age of increased conflict fought by robots.