4 years ago, the young CEO of Brinc Drones had a darker project. He insists he has changed his mind

After our front-page story on Sunday about Brinc Drones and its remarkable 22-year-old CEO, Blake Resnick, a social media post drew attention to a December piece from investigative journalism The Intercept – a story much darker on an old Resnick project that envisioned using drones to track and even attack people.

Resnick in an interview on Monday apologized for the project, which he started when he was 16 and dropped four years ago before it was rolled out. He blamed his immaturity and insisted he regretted doing it.

He said he takes to heart the imperative that his company will never manufacture such drones.

“I crossed the line and realized it and I believe took action to prevent something similar from happening again,” Resnick said. “I consider this helpful in clarifying that a strong moral compass and an ethical north star are needed in the type of business I am building.”

The Intercept story told how in 2018, at the height of President Donald Trump’s campaign against immigrants illegally entering the United States from Mexico, Resnick marketed drones as a cheap way to patrol the border – a much cheaper “drone wall” instead of Trump’s physical wall. .

He envisioned hundreds of base stations spaced along the border between which drones would fly looking for intruders while relaying video to Border Patrol agents in control centers.

A key detail, noted in a patent filed by Resnick in 2018, is that his drones would be armed with Tasers to “immobilize or incapacitate intruders until border agents arrive.”

A promotional video from that time, presented by Resnick, then 17, shows a mock encounter in which an actor playing a Hispanic man, “José”, is intercepted as he crosses the desert alone near the border.

The drone faces him, hovering in front of his face as the distant border agent controlling it curtly asks in English for him to identify himself.

In the video, “José” fires a handgun at the buzzing robot spitting out voice commands. The drone fires a Taser at him and José collapses.

It’s a far cry from the mission that Resnick is now promoting to use drones to help rescue people in dangerous situations. And it categorically contradicts Brinc’s current ethical statement that it will “never build technologies designed to injure or kill.”

Is this the grim reality behind an empty ethics statement? No, Resnick said. He cites a change of heart as he grew from a teenager to a young man.

In a mea culpa post on Medium.com after the Intercept story was published, he accepted his criticism of the Wall of Drones concept.

“I view technology and video as immature, offensive and regrettable,” he wrote. “It’s not at all representative of the direction I’ve taken the company in since 2018.”

Resnick said Monday that even then the idea was never to target and attack random migrants crossing the desert.

Instead, he said, as the video was supposed to imply, the Taser was intended for use in a confrontation with armed drug dealers who sometimes exchanged gunfire with patrol officers. border.

“It was designed to be used instead of a ball. But again, none of this is to defend him,” Resnick said. “I’m convinced it’s a bad idea. I regret doing it.

“Keep in mind these are my actions before Brinc existed. We had no employees. We had no funding. No one in the current team has worked on that except me,” he added. “It never worked, never sold, never deployed. I’m glad it never progressed beyond a fake demo video.

He said Brinc’s direction changed in the months following the Las Vegas mass shooting in fall 2017 that killed 60 people at a concert outside the Mandalay Bay Hotel.

“I knew, unfortunately, a lot of people who were injured in that event,” Resnick said. “It absolutely impacted my thinking on these issues.”

Faine Greenwood, a consultant and researcher on drone technologies and ethics, said she was willing to believe that Resnick had personally grown and changed.

Yet she remains deeply skeptical of tech companies developing products for law enforcement and military applications.

Brinc is “focused on the law enforcement market, because honestly, that’s where the money is in drones,” she said. “And we know there are certainly a lot of problems with American police right now.”

“The way the police are funded in this country, they get a ton of money to buy new technology,” she added. “There’s not a ton of oversight on how they use these funds.”

And it ignores Brinc’s statement of ethics and values, which excludes the construction of armed drone systems.

“Private tech company ethics statements are in no way legally binding,” Greenwood said. “It’s basically marketing materials.”

In the article he wrote on Medium.com, Resnick said Brinc’s ethics statement grew out of the realization that the risks of misuse of armed drones outweigh the rewards. He insisted that he would not return from this view.

“It took building an unethical prototype to figure out where that line was,” Resnick wrote. “Since we drew this line, we have not crossed it and we will not cross it.”

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