The New York Police Department is reenlisting Digidog, the four-legged robot that the city faced backlash for deploying a few years back, as reported earlier by The New York Times. NYC Mayor Eric Adams announced the news during a press event on Tuesday, stating that the use of Digidog in the city can “save lives.”
Digidog — also known as Spot — is a remote-controlled robot made by the Hyundai-owned Boston Dynamics. It’s designed to work in situations that may pose a threat to humans, helping to do things like perform inspections in dangerous areas and monitor construction sites. However, Boston Dynamics also touts its use as a public safety tool, which the NYPD has tried in the past.
In 2020, the NYPD used the Digidog for reconnaissance during a situation that had a gunman barricaded inside of a building and again deployed the robot in the midst of a home invasion in 2021 to get a glimpse at what was going on inside the home. After critics spoke out against the use of the Digidog over concerns about surveillance and the weaponization of the police, the NYPD quickly canceled its contract with Boston Dynamics.
The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), a group that advocates against the use of local and state-level surveillance, has denounced Mayor Adams’ move. “The NYPD is turning bad science fiction into terrible policing,” Albert Fox Cahn, STOP’s executive director, says in a statement. “New York deserves real safety, not a knockoff robocop. Wasting public dollars to invade New Yorkers’ privacy is a dangerous police stunt.”
City officials say that the NYPD will acquire two robot dogs for a total of $750,000, according to the NYT, and that they will only be used during life-threatening situations, such as bomb threats.
“I believe that technology is here; we cannot be afraid of it,” Mayor Adams said during Tuesday’s press conference. “A few loud people were opposed to it, and we took a step back — that is not how I operate. I operate on looking at what’s best for the city.”
The city’s readoption of Digidog is dredging up the same concerns about the NYPD’s use of public funds, along with the effect the camera-equipped robot might have on privacy and public safety. There haven’t yet been any cases where the Digidog has been weaponized, and doing so would go against Boston Dynamics’ terms of service.
In addition to deploying Digidog, Mayor Adams and the NYPD also announced that it’s piloting two additional, equally unsettling types of technologies. The first is the use of StarChase’s Guardian HX, a handheld or car-mounted launcher that shoots GPS tracking tags onto vehicles to track them during car chases. There’s also the K5 ASR, a machine from a company called Knightscope that’s described as a “fully autonomous outdoor security robot.” As noted by the NYT, the NYPD will use the bot to collect intelligence.
NYC Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said during the press conference that the NYPD’s rollout of these technologies will be “transparent, consistent, and always done in collaboration with the people that we serve.” She also added that neither Digidog nor the K5 ASR would use facial recognition technology.
When asked what the NYPD is doing differently to alleviate residents’ concerns about safety and surveillance, Adams cited that the city is putting all three machines out on display in Times Square. “Digidog is out of the pound,” Adams states. “This is the beginning of a series of rollouts we are going to do to show how public safety has transformed itself.”
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