The NYPD pulls the “Digidog” robotic out of circulation after a public backlash

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Enlarge /. The NYPD’s Digidog is just a Boston Dynamics robot in blue livery.

The Guardian reports that the New York Police Department (NYPD) is retiring Digidog, a Boston Dynamics spot robot that the state tested in December. The department described the robot as a tool that can be used to defuse dangerous situations and said it would help officers get out of the way. In an environment where critics question the amount of resources made available to law enforcement agencies, a state-of-the-art robot dog patrolling the streets of NYC has drawn a lot of negative attention and viral videos. ABC News’ local subsidiary reports that testing should continue through August.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was “glad the Digidog was put down,” adding through a spokesman that the robot was “creepy, alienating” and sending the wrong message to New Yorkers. “The police signed a contract for $ 94,200 for the robot, roughly enough for a spot unit worth $ 74,500 and a 360-degree Spot Cam for $ 21,800. The US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) argued that the money should be invested in communities instead, saying, “When was the last time you saw world-class next-generation technology for education, healthcare, housing, etc. that consistently prioritized was it for underserved communities like this? ”

The high-tech robotic police dog naturally got the imagination flying, but unlike an autonomous, gun-protected canine version of RoboCop, Spot is just a human-operated mobile camera. The Boston Dynamics Terms and Conditions of Sale prohibit weapon spotting, with Prohibited Uses (5.2) forbidding “Intentionally using the equipment to harm or intimidate people or animals as a weapon or to activate weapons”. However, rules are only good when enforced, and there is an argument that the police’s use of the robot is considered intimidation. In either case, arming the police with a $ 100,000 worth of surveillance device did not earn the department high praise.

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Police have been using bomb robots for some time, and in 2016 a Dallas police department even used a bomb-disabling robot to deliver a bomb and remotely kill a suspect. The NYPD told ABC that Spot was actually cheaper than some of the robots the department is already using. Nothing draws attention like the Boston Dynamics robots with their uniquely creepy animal movements. Thanks to the all-terrain functions, the robots can also be used in many more situations than with a wheeled bomb robot.

When Boston built Dynamics Spot, it envisaged that the robot would be used to monitor hazardous industrial areas such as “nuclear power plants, offshore oil fields, construction sites and mines” rather than for police purposes. More than 400 units have been sold to date, according to Boston Dynamics. SpaceX recently deployed two of the robots for more appropriate use: monitoring its rocket launch facilities, where the robots can detect potentially dangerous situations such as gas leaks or the consequences of a spaceship explosion.

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