Science

New York police drop Boston Dynamics robot dog after harsh criticism

After generating significant negative reactions among the population, the New York police force decided to end the deployment of the robot dog designed by Boston Dynamics. Nicknamed Digidog, this robot designed to protect police officers during dangerous operations is seen primarily as an unnecessary expense.

Earlier this month, NYPD agents deployed the Digidog to a public housing building in Manhattan. Videos of the robot in action quickly went viral on social media. ” You can’t raise the minimum wage, you can’t give me affordable housing; i work hard and i can’t get paid time off, i can’t get affordable child care. Instead, do we have money, taxpayer money, for robot dogs? “. This statement, from Jamaal Bowman, representative for the Bronx and Westchester County, reflects the feelings of many people.

After the robot made several public appearances, its deployment was heavily criticized. A lifeless machine walking around a crime scene is hardly a reassuring image to the public. In the face of criticism, the police decided to send the robot dog back to its builder earlier than planned. The lease, valued at approximately $ 94,000, was shortened and terminated on April 22 according to the New York Times.

Surveillance technology that worries

The robot dog entered the New York City Police Department last year. It was designed to intervene when the situation is deemed too dangerous for human agents. ” This dog will save lives. It will protect people. This will protect the officers ”, Said Inspector Frank Digiacomo, of the Technical Assistance Intervention Unit, in a television interview in December. But the machine quickly became the subject of heated debate. Used during a hostage-taking that took place in an apartment in the Bronx in February, the robot was mainly seen as a dangerous surveillance tool. In this specific case, Digidog had made it possible to assess the situation from a distance, in particular to determine whether the attackers were still present.

But the test did not convince. Especially since the New York City Council passed a law last June that requires the police department to be more transparent about the surveillance tools and technologies it uses – a law enacted following the murder of George Floyd. ” Allowing a robot to do police work could have implications for bias, mobile surveillance, hacking, and privacy “, Underlined Jay Stanley, principal political analyst at theAmerican Civil Liberties Union.

More recently, the robot dog sparked a new wave of outrage when it was deployed to a low-cost apartment building in Manhattan. Some people in particular described the device as “emblematic of the excessive aggressiveness of the police towards poor communities”.

John Miller, the police department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, has defended the use of Digidog whenever possible, arguing that police have used robots for nearly 50 years to respond to dangerous situations, including robotic units to defuse explosives without endangering human life.

This device designed by Boston Dynamics is much more agile than traditional robots, it can even climb stairs; its video recording tools are also of much better quality. But the deployment of Digidog was seen as “an unnecessarily costly militarization of the police” by its many critics. As soon as the robot became a “target” to fuel debates on racial inequalities and surveillance, the police department made the decision to shorten its testing period. Initially, the lease was due to end in August and it was expected that the police would test the capabilities of the craft throughout the period.

A victim of politics

For his part, city councilor Ben Kallos, Democratic representative of the Upper East Side, is delighted that this trial period has been shortened. ” At a time when we should have more police officers deployed on the streets, building relationships with residents, they are actually heading in another direction trying to replace them with robots. », Notes the advisor, adding that these robot dogs looked like those of the episode« Metalhead »of the series Black Mirror. Likewise, Bill Neidhardt, spokesperson for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, said he was “glad the Digidog was fired.” Most people are indeed worried about the capabilities of high-tech robots like this, which could threaten their safety.

To reassure the public, a spokesperson for Boston Dynamics said that the company’s robots were ” not designed for use as weapons, inflict damage or intimidate people or animals “. One of the company’s executives, Michael Perry also said in an interview that of the approximately 500 robotic dogs that are currently deployed around the world, most are used by utility companies, on construction sites or in other business contexts involving dangerous situations; according to him, only four devices were used by the police.

We believe that Spot [le nom commercial du robot] is a cost effective tool compared to historical robotic devices used by public safety to inspect hazardous environments », Declared the spokesperson. John Miller has admitted the possibility that the Digidog will one day rejoin the ranks of the police, especially if the department realizes that it is proving to be more effective than other devices of the same type. ” But for now, he’s a victim of politics and disinformation », Concludes the deputy commissioner.

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