Less than a week after announcing a plan to equip drones with its flagship product, Taser maker Axon said it is “pausing work on this project.” The plan was announced in response to last month’s shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Axon founder and CEO Rick Smith told The Associated Press he was “catastrophically disappointed” in the delayed police response to the shooting.
“We need different, better solutions, including ones that leverage technology to protect our schools, teachers and students,” Smith said last week. “Two technologies have made rapid advancements in recent years, and both could offer hope. The first: drones… The second technology: non-lethal energy weapons.”
The Axon CEO went on to say the plan would involved the Taser-equipped drones being “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.”
The idea quickly garnered controversy, including within Axon’s artificial intelligence ethics board. It had voted against the company going ahead with the plan just weeks before the announcement. On Monday, nine of the board’s 12 members resigned.
“We all feel the desperate need to do something to address our epidemic of mass shootings. But Axon’s proposal to elevate a tech-and-policing response when there are far less harmful alternatives, is not the solution,” the board said in a Monday statement. “Before Axon’s announcement, we pleaded with the company to pull back. But the company charged ahead in a way that struck many of us as trading on the tragedy of the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings.”
In Axon’s announcement of the pause to the Taser-equipped drone plan, dated Sunday, Smith said the company is “refocusing to further engage with key constituencies to fully explore the best path forward.”
“Our announcement was intended to initiate a conversation on this as a potential solution, and 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,” Smith said. “I acknowledge that our passion for finding new solutions to stop mass shootings led us to move quickly to share our ideas.”