Axon pauses plans for Taser-equipped drone to fight mass shootings as ethics advisors resign

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A conceptual rendering of a Taser drone by Axon. (Axon Image)

Axon, the company that develops Tasers, body cameras, and other law enforcement technologies, is pausing work on a project to develop a Taser-equipped drone that it believed could be used to combat mass shootings.

The move to suspend the effort comes after intense pushback on the idea, including the resignation of nine members of Axon’s ethics advisory board.

The early stage concept was first introduced last Thursday in a blog post by Axon founder and CEO Rick Smith, who said better solutions were needed to protect schools, teachers and students, “including ones that leverage technology.” The announcement came a little more than a week after a gunman killed 21 people in a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.

Smith said that 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.”

Headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz., Axon maintains a significant engineering presence in Seattle. The company says its mission is to help de-escalate police use of force by providing transparency, technologies and tools that can replace deadly weapons.

Axon tweeted a statement from the Axon AI Ethics Advisory Board on Thursday (below) in which the board said the idea for the drone was first brought to its attention more than a year ago and that a majority of the board voted last month against moving forward. The board said Axon’s decision to proceed with development “gives us considerable pause” and announcing it publicly was “deeply regrettable.”

On Sunday, Smith wrote in a new blog post that the company’s desire to find a solution to mass shootings in the U.S. led it to move quickly to share its ideas.

“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,” he wrote.

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“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 added.

The nine members who resigned issued a public statement on Monday in which they said they were not expecting the company’s announcement on Thursday and that the use case for the drone in schools was not what they had been considering for a potential pilot study.

“We all feel the desperate need to do something to address our epidemic of mass shootings,” the members said. “But Axon’s proposal to elevate a tech-and-policing response when there are far less harmful alternatives, is not the solution.”

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