The NYPD signed a contract with BostonDynamics to use their robot police dogs until August. However, facing backlash over the past couple of months, they’ve decided to retire the $94,000 robot known as Digidog early.
While there have been many complaints about the robot police dog from the public and journalists, the local politicians have been some of the loudest, including New York City Councilman Ben Kallos (D), Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Below, you can read Ocasio-Cortez’s Tweet about Digidog after it was deployed in the Bronx.
Why did the NYPD want the robot police dog in the first place? Well, they’ve said that the intention for Digidog was to send it into situations that were unsafe for people. For example, the robot has the ability for two-way communication, so it can go up to talk to people who may be dangerous. This allows for negotiations. It was once used to bring food into a hostage situation. Digidog eventually had an arm added so that it could move objects. The NYPD had only purchased a contract for one Digidog and it was in the testing phase, though they intended to purchase many more eventually. When they announced that they would be ending their BostonDynamics contract early, the department suggested that perhaps if they had named the robot police dog “Lassie”, people would have taken to it better.
As opponents pointed out, the robot police dog could be used for more than the NYPD was highlighting. The artificial intelligence technology could also be used for surveillance. At a time when so many people do not trust the police in the United States, the new technology wasn’t looked at favorably. It was often considered suspicious and even dystopian, reminding many of movies like Robocop. That it was being repeatedly deployed in low-income communities of color drew a lot of attention. As much as the NYPD tried to spin the technology as a positive, people mostly found it intimidating, unsettling, dangerous, and creepy.
The ACLU addressed the issue of robot police dogs at large, not just for the NYPD but for the country. Since this is starting to become an issue, should we be concerned? The ACLU said that yes, it is something we should be concerned about. The organization pointed out that technology is rapidly changing. These changes happen much faster than our laws keep up with. So who will be setting laws for how the police can use this technology? They’re moving forward with it without any laws in place to govern their decisions and that is a concern for many.
While the NYPD robot police dog was known as Digidog, these are actually for sale from BostonDynamics and called Spot. As a $75,000 robot that dances to Uptown Funk, it’s a bit more likable. However, watching it dance and then picturing it coming at you on the sidewalk of New York City definitely feels eerie.
For now, Digidog is a thing of the past for the NYPD, but that doesn’t mean more robot police dogs won’t be deployed elsewhere, or that similar technology won’t be back soon.