Axon plan to develop school security taser drones prompts backlash

Occurred: June 2022

An announcement by US taser manufacturer Axon that it would develop taser-armed drones as part of a long-term plan to 'stop mass shootings' in the USA prompted privacy advocates to express concerns about surveillance and safety.

The drones would consist of miniature, lightweight tasers, and 'targeting algorithms' to help operators aim the device safely and incapacitate an active shooter within 60 seconds, the company said. Responders would be trained using virtual reality. The announcement came days after the shooting of 21 people at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The move also led to the resignation of nine of twelve members of Axon's AI Ethics Advisory Board, which said had not been consulted about the programme and had concerns about introducing weaponising drones in over-policed communities of colour. The board had successfully halted previous product launches, including when Axon was considering introducing facial recognition technology to it's line of police-worn body cameras.

Within three days, the company halted the project. It later formed a new Ethics and Equity Advisory Council, an 11-member group comprising a cross-section of academics, community organisers, and activists.

In January 2023, Axon's original AI Ethics Board published (pdf) a report explaining the rationale for their objections to Project ION, including the technology's potential for misuse, the dehumanisation of individuals targeted, the increased militarisation of the police, operational risks, and potential reputational damage.

Developer: Axon
Country: USA
Sector: Education
Purpose: Strengthen security
Technology: Drone; Computer vision
Issue: Appropriateness/need; Effectiveness/value; Privacy; Surveillance; Bias/discrimination - race, ethnicity
Transparency: Governance; Marketing

Investigations, assessments, audits 🧐

Page info
Type: Issue
Published: October 2022
Last updated: May 2024