„Swarms of Drones, Piloted by Artificial Intelligence, May Soon Patrol Europe’s Borders“

Zach Campbel

The European Union is financing a project to develop drones piloted by artificial intelligence and designed to autonomously patrol Europe’s borders. The drones will operate in swarms, coordinating and corroborating information among fleets of quadcopters, small fixed-wing airplanes, ground vehicles, submarines, and boats. Developers of the project, known as Roborder, say the robots will be able to identify humans and independently decide whether they represent a threat. If they determine that you may have committed a crime, they will notify border police. […]

“The development of these systems is a dark step into morally dangerous territory,” said Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at Sheffield University in the U.K. and one of the founders of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, a nonprofit that advocates against the military use of robotics. Sharkey lists examples of weaponized drones currently on the market: flying robots equipped with Tasers, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and other weapons. He warns of the implications of combining that technology with AI-based decision-making and using it in politically-charged border zones. “It’s only a matter of time before a drone will be able to take action to stop people,” Sharkey told The Intercept.

Roborder’s developers also may be violating the terms of their funding, according to documents about the project obtained via European Union transparency regulations. The initiative is mostly financed by an €8 million EU research and innovation grant designed for projects that are exclusively nonmilitary, but Roborder’s developers acknowledge that parts of their proposed system involve military technology or could easily be converted for military use. […]

Roborder won its funding grant in 2017 and has set out to develop a marketable prototype — “a swarm of robotics to support border monitoring” — by mid-2020. Its developers hope to build and equip a collection of air, sea, and land drones that can be combined and sent out on border patrol missions, scanning for “threats” autonomously based on information provided by human operators, said Stefanos Vrochidis, Roborder’s project manager.

The drones will employ optical, infrared, and thermal cameras; radar; and radio frequency sensors to determine threats along the border. Cell phone frequencies will be used to triangulate the location of people suspected of criminal activity, and cameras will identify humans, guns, vehicles, and other objects. “The main objective is to have as many sensors in the field as possible to assist patrol personnel,” said Kostas Ioannidis, Roborder’s technical manager.

The end product will be tested by border police in several European countries, including Portugal, Hungary, and Greece, but the project has also generated considerable interest in the private sector. “Eventually, we have companies that would certainly like to exploit this commercially,” Vrochidis told The Intercept. “They might exploit the whole outcome or part of the outcome, depending. They can exploit this in Europe but also outside of Europe.” […]

The drones Roborder plans to deploy are common technology. What would be groundbreaking for the companies involved is a functional system that allows swarms of drones to operate autonomously and in unison to reliably identify targets. AI threat detection is often inaccurate, according to robotics researchers, so any system that could correctly and consistently identify people, cars, and weapons, among other things, would be a substantial and lucrative advancement.

The Intercept | 11.05.2019


Auf Heise Online | 13.05.2019 nimmt Stefan Krempl Bezug auf den o.g. Artikel.

Es sei nur noch „eine Frage der Zeit“, bis eine Drohne etwa in Grenzregionen eingesetzt werden könne, warnt der emeritierte britische Professor für Robotik und Künstliche Intelligenz (KI). Ein solches unbemanntes Flugobjekt mit einer Waffe wie einer Pistole oder einem Flammenwerfer zu bestücken, sei vergleichsweise einfach, erklärte Sharkey gegenüber dem Online-Magazin The Intercept.

Die Richtung zeichne sich ab, wo dies zusammen mit den mit dem Projekt ebenfalls angestrebten Techniken zur automatisierten Entscheidungsfindung hinführe. Dass die Roboter laut den Projektpartnern nicht befähigt werden sollen, gegen Menschen direkt vorzugehen, lässt Sharkey nicht gelten: Selbst wenn die Beteiligten derzeit eine Bewaffnung der integrierten Maschinen ausschlössen, könnte dies für andere Staaten trotzdem verlockend sein, falls es erneut zu größeren Migrationsbewegungen käme. […]

Zu den Projektpartnern gehören neben vielen Sicherheitsbehörden und Forschungseinrichtungen von EU-Staaten mehrere Tech-Firmen. Aus Deutschland sind das Fraunhofer-Institut für Hochfrequenzphysik und Radartechnik und die Firma Copting dabei, die sich als Volldienstleister für unbemannte Flugsysteme präsentiert. Ein marktfähiger Prototyp des Systems inklusive Radar, Videoüberwachung und Ortungsmöglichkeiten von Mobiltelefonen soll Mitte 2020 fertig sein.

EU-Drohnenprojekt Roborder