Axon Halts Plans to Sell Flying Taser Drones to Schools

Axon initially moved ahead with the drone despite protest from its ethics advisory board, but has reportedly changed course after several members of the board said they will resign.
Janus Rose
New York, US
The silhouette of an aerial drone flying against a cloudy sky.
Tobias Schwarz / Getty Images

Police tech company Axon is halting a controversial plan to develop aerial drones for schools equipped with stun guns after internal backlash, which reportedly drove members of its own ethics board to announce their resignations.

The company had announced plans to develop taser drones in response to deadly mass shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, TX, making extraordinary and unproven claims that the drones could prevent future tragedies. But Axon’s own ethics board released a statement condemning the plan, and several members told Reuters that a majority of the board intended to resign over the company’s decision to move ahead with the aerial taser drone..


The resignations come after Axon moved ahead with the plan despite the ethics board voting overwhelmingly against the use of weaponized drones.

“Axon’s decision to announce publicly that it is proceeding with developing TASER-equipped drones and robots to be embedded in schools, and operated by someone other than police, gives us considerable pause,” the ethics board wrote in a public statement following the company’s announcement. “Axon’s announcement came before even began to find workable solutions to address many of the Board’s already-stated concerns about the far more limited pilot we considered, and before any opportunity to consider the impact this technology will have on communities.”

Speaking with Motherboard, Axon CEO Rick Smith initially said that he was “proud” that the company’s ethics advisory board spoke out against his decision to move ahead with the taser drone. 

“If you're a police equipment company and you form an ethics advisory board of privacy advocates and police accountability folks, people that are critical of police, if they agreed with us 100 percent of the time it'd be I think it'd be pretty questionable,” Smith said.

Smith said the decision to go ahead with the plan was motivated by a cycle of political inaction following mass shootings. Privacy and civil rights advocates slammed the proposal, noting the risk of the technology being used against marginalized communities and the unlikelihood that it would stop mass shootings. 

The resigning ethics board members also worried that taser-equipped drones would increase racial injustice and inevitably be used in scenarios beyond shootings, such as protests.

"What we have right now is just dangerous and irresponsible, and it's not very well thought of and it will have negative societal consequences," ethics board member Wael Abd-Almageed told Reuters, saying that he and eight others on the 12-person panel were resigning. 

When reached for comment, Axon pointed Motherboard to a statement by Smith posted to the company’s site.

“I want to be explicit: I announced a potential delivery date a few years out as an expression of what could be possible; it is not an actual launch timeline, especially as we are pausing that program. A remotely operated non-lethal TASER-enabled drone in schools is an idea, not a product, and it’s a long way off. We have a lot of work and exploring to see if this technology is even viable and to understand if the public concerns can be adequately addressed before moving forward,” Smith’s statement said. “Pursuing an extended research path is just one element of getting this right.”