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Police Use of Robotic Dog “Spot” Raises Concerns

Dominique Adams

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Boston Dynamics Robotic Dog

Spot is being used as a “mobile remote observation device” to monitor suspicious activity, according to Police.

Massachusetts State Police has spent the past three months discreetly testing the use of “Spot”, a robotic dog designed by Boston Dynamics, alongside some of its officers.

It is believed that the robot, which is capable of opening doors and navigating obstacles, has been used in several live incidents, as well as in training scenarios.

Footage of Spot, captioned with the words “MA State Police”, was shared online showing the robots entering buildings and opening doors. The brief video showed how the robot could potentially be used to help keep human officers out of harm’s way.

Concerns over the highly-advanced robotic dog have prompted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to make a public records request to Boston Dynamics. The group want to know how and where the robots are being used and if the they will be used to carry weapons.

“All too often, the deployment of these technologies happens faster than our social, political, or legal systems react,” the ACLU said in a statement shared with TechCrunch.

“We urgently need more transparency from government agencies, who should be upfront with the public about their plans to test and deploy new technologies.”

ACLU said there was a need for statewide regulations to protect civil liberties, civil rights, and racial justice in the age of artificial intelligence, “Massachusetts must do more to ensure safeguards keep pace with technological innovation”.

A spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police said that Spot was being used as a “mobile remote observation device” to monitor suspicious activity.

Speaking to WBUR, the Massachusetts State Police officials said the robots had worked with the organisation’s bomb squad. David Procopio, a spokesman for the state police force, said: “Robot technology is a valuable tool for law enforcement because of its ability to provide situational awareness of potentially dangerous environments.”

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Boston Dynamics said it had leased the robots to the police in order to retain control over how they were used. A spokesman for the firm said under the terms and conditions of the lease the robots were not to be used to “physically harm or intimidate people”.

Boston Dynamic’s Vice President Of Business Development, Michael Perry, told TechCrunch that the company envisioned robots taking on a first responder role, rather than one of law enforcement.

Perry said that the group’s concerns are valid, adding: “It’s certainly the case that when a new technology is employed, multiple stakeholders need to come to the table.

“I think the issues that the ACLU has raised specifically are applicable, not just to our robots, but to any new technology that is deployed. I’m not sure that what we bring to the table is significantly differentiated from anything that is already out there.”

He added that existing laws governing technology used by first-responders covered most of the uses to which its robots were being put.

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Dominique Adams

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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