New York Police Get Rid of Robot Dog

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New York City, New York —(Map)

New York City’s police department (NYPD) has decided to return a robot dog that it was testing. Though the robot worked well, it upset many people. Some thought it was “creepy”. Others worried that it would invade their privacy.

Spot is a dog-shaped robot built by a company called Boston Dynamics. The robot has four legs which allow it to move easily over uneven ground. Instead of a head, the robot has a camera. It also has a microphone and a speaker, and can be remotely controlled by a human from a distance.

Spot, the Boston Dynamics, Robot, on Center Stage during the final day of Web Summit 2019 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal on November 7, 2019.

The robot is designed to go places that are difficult or dangerous for humans to go themselves. For example, Spot can easily explore in spaces that are too tight for a human to fit. It’s also useful for looking into situations that could hurt or kill a person, such as a gas leak.

Boston Dynamics says that they mainly expect Spot to be used in places with dangerous working conditions, like “oil fields, construction sites, and mines”.

But that doesn’t mean that Spot hasn’t been used for other reasons. Some health care workers used Spot last year to talk with patients without worrying about getting the coronavirus.  Last May, Singapore used a version of Spot to encourage people to follow social distancing rules in its parks.

Boston Dynamics' Spot robot patrolling a park in Singapore in an attempt to encourage social distancing.

Last December, the NYPD announced that it would begin using a special version of Spot. Their robot was painted blue and had a special camera that allowed it to “see” everything on all sides of it. They called their version “Digidog”.

The NYPD has used robots since the 1970s. Robots are sometimes useful in situations where police officers could be put in danger – for example, in situations where there’s a bomb, or a person with a gun.

The robot dog cost the NYPD about $94,000. That may seem like a lot of money, but it’s cheap for a robot. In the past, the NYPD has used robots that cost as much as $270,000.

When it announced Digidog, the NYPD said, “This dog is going to save lives, protect people, and protect officers, and that’s our goal.”

They soon found out that not everyone was as excited about the robot as they were. After the robot was brought to an emergency in February, a video of it was shared widely. The video upset a lot of people.

Many people were worried that the police were using an electronic dog for spying. Others felt like it was wrong for the police to spend money on machines instead of focusing on people.

For many people, the concern wasn’t just about this robot dog, but about what future police robots might look like – for example, if the police used a robot that could control its own movements, or one that carried weapons.

When the dog was used again in late April, another video was shared on the internet. Once again, many people were upset. As a result of the strong public reaction, the NYPD decided to get rid of Digidog, and return him to Boston Dynamics.
Did You Know…?
Boston Dynamics says there are about 500 Spot robots in use. Only 4 are being used by police departments. The company doesn’t allow any weapons on their robots.

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