The Massachusetts State Police is the first law enforcement agency in the country to utilize a robotic dog in its operations, named Spot.
Robotic technology is not entirely a new concept in the ranks of law enforcement. Particularly, Spot is touted to be an addition to the line of robotics that can potentially help prevent casualties, and provide reliable and safe services to reduce risk in day-to-day police operations.
“Robot technology is a valuable tool for law enforcement because of its ability to provide situational awareness of potentially dangerous environments,” state police spokesman David Procopio wrote.
Notably, Spot was an acquisition from Boston Dynamics for the period of 3 months beginning in August until November. The company’s vice president for business development, Michael Perry, said they envision Spot to impact a variety of industries ranging from oil and gas companies, construction, and entertainment.
The 90-day trial was not exactly used to put Spot in actual operations, however. Instead, the “mobile remote observation device” was used to test the dog-like robot to scout potentially hazardous locations and provide images to nearby officers. These situations can be anywhere such as the location of a suspected armed suspect might be hiding.
“Right now, our primary interest is sending the robot into situations where you want to collect information in an environment where it’s too dangerous to send a person, but not actually physically interacting with space,” Perry said.
Generally, using non-living scouts to high-risk locations potentially relieve the threat from actual police officers, other law enforcement personnel, and even the adored police dogs.
On the other hand, the American Civil Liberties Union have raised their fears regarding this sort of technology. Particularly, they have noted Spot’s customizable feature.
Spot has an open API feature. In simple terms, a police department or warehouse operator can customize Spot with its own software. From this point forward, the robotic dog can function in a variety of ways that its operator deems worthy.
In this sense, civil rights advocates such as the ACLU fear that, though not created for such, can be used as an attack or killer robots.
“We need to have transparency and safeguards to ensure that the law keeps pace with technology and technological innovations. This kind of technology shouldn’t be deployed in secret,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
“We need to have a robust public debate so we can set the protections and the boundaries where we can ensure that technology is used to enhance liberty and not to take it away,” she said.
In response, Boston Dynamics have made it clear that Spot cannot be weaponized. Perry said the lease agreements have a clause requiring the robot should not be used in a way that could “physically harm or intimidate people.”
“Part of our early evaluation process with customers is making sure that we’re on the same page for the usage of the robot,” he said. “So upfront, we’re very clear with our customers that we don’t want the robot being used in a way that can physically harm somebody.”