The New York Police Department’s new robot dog will receive a special robotic arm for opening doors and moving objects next month, according to a new report from ABC7 in New York. The existence of the NYPD’s robot was first revealed in late October after it assisted in the apprehension of a suspect in Brooklyn. But details about what the Boston Dynamics robot actually did during that arrest remain a mystery.
“This dog is going to save lives, protect people, and protect officers, and that’s our goal,” Frank Digiacomo, the NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit Inspector, told ABC7 in a news report that aired Thursday.
Thursday’s local TV report was the first public display of the NYPD’s new four-legged robot, which has a max speed of 3 miles per hour, 360-degree video capabilities, and can carry up to 30 pounds. The robot, which the NYPD has named Digidog, is operated by remote control and can also climb stairs.
The only other time NYPD has publicly acknowledged use of the robot so far was during a hostage situation in Queens. But the robot apparently only served as a glorified waiter, something that would make various restaurant robots of the 1980s very proud.
“People wanted food, so we strapped food onto it, sent it into the location...” Digiacomo told ABC7.
This particular model of robot, known as Spot, was previously used by the U.S. military in various trials until Boston Dynamics was purchased by Google, and only recently became available for lease to private companies. But at least one other police department in the U.S. has started experimenting with the deployment of robot dogs on American streets.
The Massachusetts State Police used Spot during a trial in the summer of 2019, according to documents obtained by WBUR in Boston and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. Video of the robot dog in training shows it with the robotic arm that will be attached on the NYPD’s unit by next month.
Anti-robot militarization groups have condemned the use of robot dogs by police as an unnecessary form of escalation at a particularly sensitive time for American civil rights.
“In a time when society is asking officers to stand down and de-escalate their violence against black communities, to see this level of technology deployed is shocking and utterly inhumane,” Liz O’Sullivan, the technology director of Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said in a statement posted online.
“The NYPD must not be allowed a license to experiment on New Yorkers with unproven technologies in criminal justice where accidents and unexpected behavior are guaranteed,” O’Sullivan continued.
“Only once before has Boston Dynamics been used as an enforcement technique outside of the military, but this escalation of robotics as a form of threat to violence is chilling and completely inappropriate for local police.”
“The NYPD is turning bad science fiction into real life,” Albert Fox Cahn, executive director at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said in a press release after the existence of the robot first became known. “This disturbing (and possibly illegal) drone is just the latest example of the NYPD investing in invasive spy tools.”
“Under the recently-enacted POST Act, the NYPD is required to provide a privacy and use policy for any newly-acquired surveillance systems, but the public never learned about this drone until it was already on the streets of Brooklyn,” Cahn continued.
“At a time when our city can barely find the money to pay all its human workers, we shouldn’t be wasting money on this sort of untested technologies.”
These robot police dogs aren’t equipped with guns, but the first known use of a police robot to kill someone on U.S. soil was in July of 2016. It was that summer when Dallas Police packed a bomb disposal robot made by Northrup Grumman with explosives and sent it to intentionally kill an alleged sniper who was hiding behind a brick wall. No police officers were ever charged for the extrajudicial killing.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the U.S. military was currently using Spot. Boston Dynamics stopped pursuing military contracts after it was purchased by Google. This post also implied the Massachusetts State Police was still using Spot. A PR spokesperson for Boston Dynamics says it was just a trial period in 2019. Gizmodo regrets the errors.