Fortune — Many details are unavailable about how exactly the Dallas police used the robot beyond what Brown told reporters. However, researchers at The Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College have used publicly available information to conclude that Dallas police have at least three so-called unmanned ground vehicles, or robots, obtained in April 2014 through a federal program that lets law enforcement buy surplus military equipment.
Law enforcement can buy anything through the Defense Department’s 1033 surplus equipment program, from armored vehicles and firearms to robots and gym equipment, explained Arthur Holland Michel, the center’s co-director.
Dallas police spent $10,000 for each robot, according to the Defense Department data. Additionally, a 2008 public city document shows that Dallas police sought to buy a robot that would not exceed $207,671. Remotec, that built the robot, is a subsidiary of Northrop Grunman and makes a line of robots called ANDROS that are used to handle and dispose of hazardous materials.
Michel explained that Dallas police may have used one of two types of robots against the suspect—the ANDROS Robot or another robot called the MARCbot. There’s always a possibility that another type of robot could have been used, it should be noted. Both models have been used by the military for bomb disposal, but were not designed for use against humans, he said.
These bomb disposal robots are also typically outfitted with cameras, which allow operators to see from the robot’s perspective. In the case of the Dallas shootings, this camera feature would be useful to police so they could guide the robot near the suspect and set off an explosion rather than throwing a grenade in his direction.
It’s important to note that both of these robots are not autonomous and therefore require a human to remotely direct their movements. Although technology has advanced to the point where robots can move freely in very specific circumstances and environments like a warehouse, they cannot operate independently in unfamiliar locations where there are too many variables like poor lighting and too many people moving around.
Like other experts, Michel believes this is the first time a U.S. police department used a robot to harm someone. He said that the use of robots is a growing trend in law enforcement, but this Dallas incident marks the first time he’s heard of robots being outfitted with weapons to kill criminals. Click for more www.fortune.com