Anger as tech start-up’s video showing drones tasing migrants emerges

Founder says ‘video is immature, deeply regrettable and not at all representative of the direction I have taken the company in since’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Thursday 16 December 2021 00:40
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Tech start-up’s video showing drones tasing migrants emerges

A tech start-up is facing criticism after a promotional video from 2018 emerged suggesting that drones could be used to tase migrants.

Drone startup Brinc, and its 21-year-old founder Blake Resnick, indicated that the company’s founding was inspired by the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, in which 58 people died, to build non-violent robots that could help law enforcement in dangerous situations.

But an early promotional video obtained by The Intercept now shows that an initial idea was drones with tasers to be used for border control.

According to Mr Resnick, the drones the company now makes are helping law enforcement agencies handle hostage situations. The CEO also said that the start of the company was “in large part” a reaction to the Las Vegas shooting.

Under “Values & Ethics”, the company website states that it is committed to “never build technologies designed to hurt or kill”.

The video showcasing the drone was produced in 2018, but the technology never made it to market, according to the founder.

“I was 16 years old when I designed the prototype portrayed in the video,” Mr Resnick told The Independent in an email. “At this time, I considered building products primarily for the homeland security and defense industries. I initially believed drones could save lives by using nonlethal systems to prevent lethal shootings between cartels and border agents. I explored the idea but realized it was not the ethical direction I wanted to take the company in.”

“This is one of the most desolate parts of our southern border,” Mr Resnick says in the video obtained by The Intercept, standing to the side of a large metal box. “Every year, over $100bn of narcotics and half a million people flow through areas just like this one.

“There’s no wall here, and it probably wouldn’t work anyway because of the rough terrain and eminent domain issues,” Mr Resnick adds. “But there is a solution.” The video then goes on to show how the drones would be able to surveil the border area as well as track and eventually attack migrants.

Mr Resnick suggested that a “wall of drones” could be used to police the border, fitted with thermal sensors, human-detection software, and stun guns. The drones would also have a speaker so that border patrol would be able to “interrogate” migrants remotely.

The promotional video shows a man referred to as “José” being tased after he doesn’t show ID and aims a firearm at the drone.

Social media users have called the footage and the product pitch “disgusting” and “horrific”.

Three years after the video was made, Mr Resnick told The Intercept in an email that the “video is immature, deeply regrettable and not at all representative of the direction I have taken the company in since”.

Mr Resnick told The Independent: “After the Mandalay Bay shooting in my hometown (and initial conversations with first responders), we stopped working on the Wall of Drones.”

“That event inspired my interest in building technology to serve emergency responders. We never fully developed, sold, or used the wall of drones operationally. The prototype has nothing to do with what BRINC Drones is today or what we will be in the future,” he added.

The CEO added to The Intercept that the prototype was discontinued in 2018 because it was “prone to disastrous misuse … I agree that the technology as depicted is unethical and that is one of the reasons we created a set of Values and Ethics to guide our work”.

“The video was faked”, Mr Resnick said, adding that they “never built a drone with a functional taser”.

Compressed gas was used in the video to fire a taser dart at the actor but “without actually putting high voltage through the wires”, Mr Resnick said, according to The Intercept.

The outlet quoted a source as saying that Mr Resnick “got this whole narrative about the shooting in Vegas, but the original idea was 100 per cent to use drones to tase migrants”.

They said the founder initially didn’t display much interest in “applications in the non-tasing immigrants business” despite there being “a million things you can use drones for that don’t involve electrocuting people”.

“I want to be clear that BRINC will never sell lethal drones,” Mr Resnick told The Independent. “We stand by our mission to use technology to protect the public and first responders and believe building armed drones would harm this goal.”

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