Rise of the Drones

Terrifying Taser Drone Comes Equipped With 80,000 Volt Stun Gun

“The things we thought were science fiction aren’t anymore.”

C.U.P.I.D.

CUPID (Chaotic Unmanned Personal Intercept Drone) before his inaugural intern-hunting mission. [via Chaotic Moon]

Hexacopter-style drones are known for delivering flowers, beer, and, in Jeff Bezos’s dreams if nowhere else, delivering your latest Amazon Prime order. Well, now a drone named CUPID is delivering 80,000 volts through an on-board stun gun.

For one of the more theatrical presentations at SXSW this weekend, software developer Chaotic Moon Studios gave a live demonstration of how its flying drone CUPID handles unwelcome house guests. They did this by tasing their intern.

The powerful, Taser-equipped drone isn’t going to be offered in stores any time soon. It’s part of a series that William “Whurley” Hurley, Chaotic Moon’s CIO, hopes will get people thinking about the social impact of tech developments.

“The things we thought were science fiction aren’t anymore,” Mr. Hurley said, “This conversation isn’t just between innovators, entrepreneurs, legislators – we’re trying to bring the discussion beyond our peers in technology to the people this technology will affect.”

The demonstration was of a hypothetical home-intruder scenario. CUPID can be programmed to sense unfamiliar trespassers when a set boundary line is crossed. It activates itself, takes off, and sends a notification to your phone so that you can view via remote video who the drone is seeing. You then cue CUPID to “authorize” or “detain” the intruder.

The ominous “detain” option causes CUPID to fire barbed prongs, pumping the target with “80,000 volts of awesomeness,” and can keep the electrical current running until the police arrive. The stun gun fries all electronics within a 5 foot radius, save for CUPID’s carefully protected components, of course.

The drone (seen above tasing Jackson the Intern) is built from a commercially available tarot hexacopter, and the drone can be piloted remotely, or can perform its duties on fully automatic mode.

This is where things get legally troublesome. With little-to-no precedent for automatic attack robots, legality is dubious. For the demonstration, Chaotic Moon’s legal team worked with local law enforcement and military to create the most safe testing environment possible, including a team of seven operators (the founder, the range master, the pilot, someone to load the charge, someone to fire it, and two layers of override). They decided fully automatic mode was off-limits for human testing, though Chaotic Moon insists that CUPID is quite capable of going solo.

CUPID’s implications are far-reaching. Such small, armed drones could be used for law enforcement to keep officers out of harm’s way or to automate basic patrol patterns — but it’s not hard to imagine how an airborne Taser could be abused. Similar technology also might be used to bring broadband networks into developing countries thanks to big investments by Facebook.

There’s no indication from Chaotic Moon or other developers that home defense technology like CUPID would be available for purchase or use any time soon, but Mr. Hurley is uncomfortable with the possibilities. “Usually when we finish a project with Chaotic Moon, we’ll open source the project for everyone’s use,” said Mr. Hurley. But not this time.

“Now we’re going to kill it.”

Follow Jack Smith IV on Twitter or via RSS. jsmith@observer.com