Football defensive line player Jesse Russell ’14 almost majored in computer science, so not surprisingly, he was particularly interested to meet robotics executive and Mac gridiron veteran Andrew Borene ’98 at a practice. But he never expected the result: a paid internship with ReconRobotics and Robotics Alley of Edina, Minn.
Russell is a political science major with a strong interest in computer science. Borene is an executive with ReconRobotics, which recently won a $15 million contract to provide its Recon Scout micro-robots to the U.S. Army.
“Humans use discretion; robots don’t. If robots are involved in lethal force and something goes wrong, who is to blame—the operator, the inventor, the manufacturer?”
“They look like toilet paper tubes with wheels,” says Russell of the mini-robots, which come equipped with a camera and are commanded by an operator with a joystick and video screen. The 1.2-pound robots are sometimes called “throw-bots” because after an activation pin is pulled they can be thrown up to 120 feet. They’re typically sent into dangerous situations in order to send back real-time video to operators. SWAT teams and the military use them for reconnaissance and to seek out potential explosive devices before sending in personnel.
Helping organize the first Robotics Alley conference last fall was one of Russell’s assignments. This brought together robotics experts and companies working in every area from manufacturing to medical robotics.
“In his time here, Jesse built a significant database of U.S. and international robotics industry organizations and contributed much to Recon’s mission,” says Borene, who is the company’s assistant general counsel and its director of government and industry affairs. As Russell’s contributions became apparent, Borene successfully advocated for transforming the previously unpaid internship into a paid one.
As for Russell, he says, “The most valuable part of the internship was the people I met, like CEOs of robotics companies and Dr. Pete Singer,” director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative and a senior fellow at Brookings Institution in Washington. Singer’s book Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (Penguin, 2009) examines the repercussions of robotics and other technologies on war, politics, ethics, and the law.
“There is so much policy to be carved out around technology and war,” says Russell. “Humans use discretion; robots don’t. If robots are involved in lethal force and something goes wrong, who is to blame—the operator, the inventor, the manufacturer?”
As current student and alumnus, Russell and Borene enjoyed a strong Mac connection. “It was great to work with Borene because he took classes and played football here,” says Russell, “and he really cares about Macalester.”