The New York Times reports on what the city’s police department calls Digidog, “a 70-pound robotic dog with a loping gait, cameras and lights affixed to its frame, and a two-way communication system that allows the officer maneuvering it remotely to see and hear what is happening.”
Police said the robot can see in the dark and assess how safe it is for officers to enter an apartment or building where there may be a threat. “The NYPD has been using robots since the 1970s to save lives in hostage situations & hazmat incidents,” the department said on Twitter. “This model of robot is being tested to evaluate its capabilities against other models in use by our emergency service unit and bomb squad.”
But the robot has skeptics. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, described Digidog on Twitter as a “robotic surveillance ground” drone…. Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, said empowering a robot to do police work could have implications for bias, mobile surveillance, hacking and privacy. There is also concern that the robot could be paired with other technology and be weaponized. “We do see a lot of police departments adopting powerful new surveillance and other technology without telling, let alone asking, the communities they serve,” he said. “So openness and transparency is key….”
A mobile device that can gather intelligence about a volatile situation remotely has “tremendous potential” to limit injuries and fatalities, said Keith Taylor, a former SWAT team sergeant at the police department who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s important to question police authority; however, this appears to be pretty straightforward,” he said. “It is designed to help law enforcement get the information they need without having a deadly firefight, for instance.”
The Times reports that Boston Dynamics has been selling the dog since June. It’s also already being used by the Massachusetts State Police and the Honolulu Police Department, “while other police departments have called the company to learn more about the robot, which has a starting price of about $74,000 and may cost more with extra features,” according to Michael Perry, vice president of business development at the company.
The Times points out that the robot dog is also being purchased by utility and energy companies as well as manufacturers and construction companies, which use it to get into dangerous spaces. “The robot has been used to inspect sites with hazardous material. Early in the pandemic, it was used by health care workers to communicate with potentially sick patients at hospital triage sites, Perry said.”
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