- Axon Enterprise attracted controversy when its CEO proposed drones as a method for stopping mass shooters.
- The company’s CEO backed down from the plan in a blog post Sunday.
- Members of Axon’s ethics board resigned over the drone controversy.
Law-enforcement technology company Axon Enterprise revealed that it was dropping its idea for a program to develop stun gun-armed drones to combat mass shooters. This announcement dropped on Sunday, after several members of the company’s ethics board resigned over the controversy that followed.
On June 2, Axon CEO and founder Rick Smith published a post on the company’s website, speculating that drones and non-lethal energy weapons “could offer hope” to bring an end to mass shootings.
“Put together, these two technologies may effectively combat mass shootings,” Smith wrote. “In brief, non-lethal drones can be installed in schools and other venues and play the same role that sprinklers and other fire suppression tools do for firefighters: Preventing a catastrophic event, or at least mitigating its worst effects.”
Smith acknowledged that his proposal could sound “faintly ludicrous to some” and noted that, “We cannot introduce anything like non-lethal drones into schools without rigorous debate and laws that govern their use.”
The post elicited widespread controversy, including condemnation from the ACLU. And some of the criticism appears to have stemmed from the company’s own AI ethics board. Ethics-board member and University of Southern California professor Wael Abd-Almageed told Reuters: “What we have right now is just dangerous and irresponsible, and it’s not very well thought of and it will have negative societal consequences.” The news service reported that several members of the company’s ethics board had resigned over concerns about public safety and privacy.
In a follow-up statement posted on the company’s website on Sunday, Smith wrote that, “… 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.”
“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,” Smith wrote. “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 that the announcement about the prospective drone program “was intended to initiate a conversation on this as a potential solution.” The CEO also addressed the resignations of members of the company’s ethics board.
“It is unfortunate that some members of Axon’s ethics advisory panel have chosen to withdraw from directly engaging on these issues before we heard or had a chance to address their technical questions,” Smith wrote. “We respect their choice and will continue to seek diverse perspectives to challenge our thinking and help guide other technology options that we should be considering.”
Axon Enterprise did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. Founded in 1993, Axon Enterprise was previously named TASER International after its premiere electroshock weapon product. Axon is based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Drones have also been touted as a solution for mass shootings. Pan America Drone has developed a drone that’s intended to disrupt and prevent shootings. Still, as demonstrated by the Axon controversy, ethical questions remain about how far the technology should be taken in order to prevent such slayings.