Following Axon's announcement last week that the company was developing a TASER-armed drone that could be used for active shooter response, the company received considerable negative feedback from its own advisors.
Nine members of Axon's 13-person AI Ethics Board have resigned over the proposal.
Axon has responded by issuing a statement saying development of the TASER drone has been paused.
"Our announcement was intended to initiate a conversation on this as a potential solution, and it did lead to considerable public discussion that has provided us with a deeper appreciation of the complex and important considerations relating to this matter. I acknowledge that our passion for finding new solutions to stop mass shootings led us to move quickly," Axon CEO Rick Smith said in a statement.
"I want to be explicit: I announced a potential delivery date a few years out as an expression of what could be possible; it is not an actual launch timeline, especially as we are pausing that program. A remotely operated non-lethal TASER-enabled drone in schools is an idea, not a product, and it’s a long way off. We have a lot of work and exploring to see if this technology is even viable and to understand if the public concerns can be adequately addressed before moving forward," Smith said.
The former members of the Axon AI Ethics Board also issued a statement saying why they resigned. “We all feel the desperate need to do something to address our epidemic of mass shootings. But Axon’s proposal to elevate a tech-and-policing response when there are far less harmful alternatives, is not the solution.” The former Board members say that when Axon decided to make its announcement “it bypassed Axon’s commitment to consult with the company’s own AI Ethics Board.”
The former board members press release said, "Axon first mentioned the armed drone concept to the Axon AI Ethics board over a year ago. At that time, the company proposed offering the drone to police departments as a tool that would remotely disarm a person and avoid a police officer using a firearm, thereby potentially saving a life. The board expressed deep concerns over how the drone could be misused, escalate the use of force by police, and disproportionately harm overpoliced communities and communities of color. It voted 8-4 to recommend that Axon not proceed with a limited pilot of even this use case."
The Board previously nixed Axon's plan to add facial recognition to its body-worn camera systems. It also shot down a project to build social media intelligence software.
The former Board members complete statement can be read here.