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Chinese home bot passed off as combat robodog at Russia's Army 2022 Expo

A robodog with an anti-tank grenade launcher attached on top was shown at the Russian Army-2022 armaments exhibition. The developers stated that the robodog could shoot and transport weapons. Despite the fact that the robot was wrapped entirely in a black cover, it was easily recognized as a Chinese home dog bot. It can't shoot, can only walk around in sunny weather, can't hold a charge for more than a couple of hours, and is easy to hack.

The robodog at the Russian arms expo was reported by the state media outlet RIA Novosti, which “interviewed the developers about the robotic complex.” At the presentation, the robodog carried a payload consisting of a disposable rocket-propelled anti-tank grenade and an RPG-26 grenade launcher.

According to the developers, the robodog, or, in other words, the M-81 complex, can “aim and shoot, transport weapons, it can be used for civilian purposes in an emergency zone for doing reconnaissance, walking through rubble and delivering medicines. In combat use, the robodog can also be used in target designation, patrolling and guarding, the developers said.

The complex looks like a dog because it is made “using bionics, i.e. the principles, structures and mechanics characteristic of the animal world, so they resemble dogs, especially in the way they move.”

According to the news agency, the robot has been developed by the Russian engineering company Intellect Machines JSC. According to the Unified State Register of Legal Entities, the company was registered in April 2022 and its registered address is in an ordinary apartment building on Shevchenko Street in St. Petersburg. The company is headed by Alexei Aristov, who previously acted as the director and manager of several companies which the tax service had liquidated as non-functioning.

Despite the fact that at the presentation the robot was wrapped in a black costume, thanks to its appearance the “M-81 complex” was easily recognized as the Go1 bot made by the Chinese company Unitree Robotics by the octagonal shape of its head and by its front cameras which could be seen through the cover. The bot is available on the manufacturer's website in two variants and costs $2700-3500. The model has been on the market for over a year, and anyone can buy it, particularly on AliExpress.

Screenshot: AliExpress
Screenshot: AliExpress

The manufacturer positions the robot as a companion, i.e. essentially a toy. According to its specs it can carry a load of up to 3 kg, reach speeds of up to 17 km/h and hold a charge up to 4 hours. However, according to customer reviews, depending on the mode of operation, its usual runtime is from 30 minutes to a couple hours, and its maximum speed does not exceed 4-5 km/h.

Screenshot: Unitree Robotics / Youtube
Screenshot: Unitree Robotics / Youtube

In Russia, the Unitree Go1 is sold on the Robosobaka website, which belongs to Revotech LLC. The company says on its website and social media pages that it is associated with Skolkovo. Its parent company, New IT Project LLC, is a major supplier of regular computers and laptops to the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Emergencies (the amount of contracts signed over the last four years is no less than 2 billion rubles). Robosobaka's Tik Tok account has another video showing a large number of those robots dressed up - although not in camouflage black covers, but in dressy pants.

Not only can the Unitree Go1 not carry heavy loads - for example, an RPG-26 with a grenade weighs 4.7 kg, which is a bit too heavy for the robot, if it is really that robot (although it could carry a grenade launcher without the grenade) - but it is also unable to negotiate rough terrain or walk on mud or wet ground. The Russian importer points out that you can walk with the robot only “in sunny weather,” as it does not have sufficient moisture and dust protection.

In July 2022, the Chinese developer showed in his Youtube channel that it was already working on a new B1 model, which looks different and can dive into water, jump over obstacles and carry up to 80 kg.

The Go1 also lacks protection against signal interception. Hackers discovered that the robot had a vulnerability that allowed them to intercept its signal and immobilize the robot with a universal Flipper Zero remote control developed by Russian amateur engineers.

U.S. bloggers also tried to weaponize the robot. To this end, they developed mounts and mechanisms that allowed them to shoot the weapon attached to the robot's back remotely. At the same time, they discovered that the robot could fall over due to recoil or simply while carrying a firearm. Go1 had particular difficulty in handling an assault rifle. The bloggers did not test it with a grenade launcher.

Screenshot: I did a thing / Youtube
Screenshot: I did a thing / Youtube

This is not the first Chinese development which has been presented as a domestic one in Russia. In August, the media reported a new development by a Skolkovo engineer: the single-board computer Repka that could replace the foreign-made Raspberry Pi. It turned out that the innovation was based on the Chinese single-board Nano Pi K1 Plus, which has been on sale since 2018. The domestic Raspberry Pi 3 was based on the Chinese-made Allwinner H5 CPU, which can be purchased on AliExpress.

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