Robot police dog: a useful hunting dog or a dehumanized machine?

Honolulu (Associated Press)-If you are homeless and looking for temporary shelter in the Hawaiian capital, look forward to the arrival of the robotic police dog, which will scan your eyes to make sure you do not have a fever.

This is just one of the ways that public safety agencies start to use Spot. Spot is the most famous new type of commercial robot with animal-like agility.

The few police officers who tried to use quadruped machines said that they are just another tool, just like existing drones and simple wheeled robots, which can keep emergency rescuers away from injuries when detecting danger. But the privacy watchdog-humans-warned that the police are secretly snapping up these robots without setting up protections against aggressive, intrusive or inhuman use.

In Honolulu, the police department spent approximately $150,000 in federal pandemic relief funds to purchase their Spot from the robotics company Boston Dynamics for use in a government-run tent city near the airport.

“Because these people are homeless, it’s okay to do this,” said Jin Zhongxu, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. “At some point, it will reappear for other purposes after the pandemic is over.”

Earlier this year, acting lieutenant Joseph O’Neill of the Honolulu Police Department’s Community Outreach Division defended the use of the robot. He said it protects officials, shelter staff and residents by scanning their body temperatures during meals at the shelter, and that the homeless can be quarantined at the shelter and tested for COVID-19. The robot is also used to remotely interview individuals who have tested positive.

“None of us said,’This is terrible, so worrying,'” O’Neill said. “We don’t just move around and scan people at will.”

The use of such robots by the police is still rare and largely untested-and not always popular with the public. When the local news agency Honolulu Civil Beat revealed that the Spot purchase was made with federal relief funds, Honolulu officials faced strong opposition.

At the end of last year, the New York Police Department began using Spot after painting it blue and renaming it “Digidog.” Before New Yorkers started spotting it in the wild and posting videos on social media, it was barely noticed. Spot quickly caused a sensation and aroused public outcry, which led to the police department’s sudden return of Digidog to its manufacturer.

“This is something from Robocops, it’s crazy,” U.S. Democratic Rep. Jamal Bowman responded in April. After a widely circulated video showing robots and police responding to reports of domestic violence in a high-rise public residential building in Manhattan, he was one of several New York politicians who commented.

A few days later, after further review by elected city officials, the department said it would terminate the lease and return the robot. Public officials said the expensive machine hardly attracted any public attention or explanation and was deployed in public housing that has been over-regulated. The use of high-tech dogs is also in conflict with Black Lives Matter’s call to cancel police operations and reinvest in other priorities.

Boston Dynamics, the company that makes robots, said it learned from the fiasco in New York and tried to better explain to the public and customers what Spot can and cannot do.As Boston Dynamics becomes part of the Korean automaker, this becomes more and more important Hyundai Motor Company, The company completed a $880 million transaction in June to acquire a controlling stake in the robotics company.

Michael Perry, vice president of business development at Boston Dynamics, said in an interview: “One of the biggest challenges is to accurately describe the state of technology to people who have never experienced it in person.” “Most people are applying concepts from science fiction. To what the robot is doing.”

For one of its clients, the Dutch National Police, explaining this technology includes emphasizing that Spot is a very good robot-well-behaved and not that smart after all.

“It doesn’t think on its own,” said Marjolein Smit, director of the Dutch National Police Special Operations Group, when talking about remote-controlled robots. “If you tell it to go left, it will go left. If you stop it, it will stop.”

Earlier this year, her police department sent its Spot to the scene of a deadly drug laboratory explosion near the Belgian border to check for dangerous chemicals and other hazards.

Perry said the company’s acceptable use guidelines prohibit the weaponization of Spot or any violation of privacy or civil rights laws, which he said makes Honolulu police clear. This is all part of a year-long effort by Boston Dynamics, which has relied on military research funding for decades to make its robots look friendlier and thus more popular with local governments and consumer-oriented companies.

In contrast, a little-known competitor, Philadelphia-based Ghost Robotics, has no qualms about weaponization and supplies its dog-like robots to several departments of the US military and its allies.

“It’s just plug-and-play, you want anything,” said Jiren Parikh, the CEO of Ghost Robotics, who criticized Boston Dynamics’ ethical principles as “selective ethics” because the company Have been involved in the military in the past.

Parikh added that his company does not sell its quadruped robots to police departments, but he said it makes sense for the police to use them. “It’s basically a camera on a mobile device,” he said.

There are currently about 500 Spot robots. Perry said utility companies often use them to inspect high-pressure areas and other hazardous areas. Spot is also used to monitor construction sites, mines and factories, equipped with any sensors needed for the job.

It is still mainly controlled by humans, although all they have to do is tell it which direction to go, and it can intuitively climb stairs or traverse rough terrain. It can also operate autonomously, but only if it has memorized the specified route and does not have too many unexpected obstacles.

“The first value most people see in robots is to take people out of danger,” Perry said.

goldThe ACLU in Hawaii recognizes that such machines may have many legitimate uses, but said it may not be a good idea to open the door for police robots that interact with people. he Pointing out how the Dallas police glued explosives to wheeled robots to kill a sniper in 2016 has sparked a continuing debate about “killer robots” in police and combat.

“These robots have the potential to increase the militarization of the police department and use it in unacceptable ways,” gold Say. “Maybe this is not something we want law enforcement to have.”

Associated Press technical writer Matt O’Brien reports from Providence, Rhode Island.

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