Digidog, a Robotic Canine Utilized by the Police, Stirs Privateness Considerations

Two men were held hostage in an apartment in the Bronx. They were threatened at gunpoint, handcuffed and tortured for hours by two other men who pretended to be plumbers to get inside, the police said.

One of the victims escaped and called the police, who showed up at the apartment on East 227th Street early Tuesday morning. She wasn’t sure if the armed men were still inside.

Police decided it was time to deploy Digidog, a 70-pound robotic dog with a hopping gait, cameras and lights on the frame, and a two-way communication system that would allow the officer maneuvering him from a distance. can see and hear what is happening.

Police said the robot can see in the dark and assess how safe it is for officers to enter an apartment or building that may be threatened.

In the case of the home invasion in the Bronx, police said Digidog helped officers determine that no one was in the house. Police said they were still looking for the two men who stole a cell phone and $ 2,000 in cash and burned one of the victims with a hot iron.

“The NYPD has been using robots to save lives in hostage situations and dangerous goods incidents since the 1970s,” the department said on Twitter. “This robot model is being tested to evaluate its capabilities against other models used by our emergency services unit and our bomb squad.”

But the robot has skeptics.

The Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described Digidog on Twitter as a drone with a “robotic surveillance floor”.

“Please ask yourself: When was the last time you saw world-class, next-generation technology for education, healthcare, housing, etc. that has been consistently prioritized for underserved communities like this one?” she said on Twitter, linking to a story in the New York Post about Digidog.

The city council passed the Public Oversight Technology Surveillance Act in June last year to overtake the police, many of which were sparked by Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

The law requires law enforcement agencies to be more transparent about their surveillance and technology tools, including Digidog, which civic libertarians said was missing.

Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, said empowering a robot to do police work could have implications for bias, mobile surveillance, hacking, and privacy. There is also concern that the robot could be paired and armed with other technology.

“We see many police forces adopting powerful new surveillance and other technologies without saying, let alone asking, what communities they serve,” he said. “So openness and transparency are the key.”

The New York Police Department did not respond to requests for comment on concerns about civil liberty.

A mobile device that can remotely gather information about a volatile situation has “tremendous potential” to limit injuries and deaths, said Keith Taylor, a former sergeant on the police department’s SWAT team at John Jay College of Criminal Justice taught.

“It is important to question the police department, but it seems pretty easy,” he said. “It is designed to help law enforcement agencies get the information they need without, for example, engaging in a deadly firefight.”

The New York Police Department is among the three in the country with the mechanical dog built by Boston Dynamics, the tech company best known for videos of its robots dancing and jumping with eerie human fluidity.

The company that calls the robot dog Spot started selling it last June. Most of the buyers were utility and energy companies, as well as manufacturers and construction companies, putting it in dangerous spaces for humans, said Michael Perry, vice president of business development for the company.

The robot was used to inspect locations with hazardous material. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was used by health care workers to communicate with potentially ill patients at triage locations in the hospital, Perry said.

Most companies rename the robot after you buy it, giving it names like Bolt, Mac, and Cheese, he said.

The Massachusetts State Police and Honolulu Police Department also use it. Other law enforcement agencies have called the company to learn more about the robot, which has a starting price of around $ 74,000 and may cost more with additional features, Perry said.

The robotic dog, which has 90 minutes of battery life and runs at a speed of three miles per hour, was not intended as a covert mass surveillance tool, Perry said.

“It’s loud and has flashing lights,” he said. “It’s not something that is discreet.”

The use of robots, which can be used in dangerous situations to get cops out of the way, could become the norm.

In 2016, Dallas police ended a stalemate with an armed man who was wanted in the murder of five officers by blowing him up with a robot.

In 2015, a man with a knife who was about to jump off a bridge in San Jose, California was arrested after police robots brought him a cell phone and a pizza.

The previous year, Albuquerque police used a robot to use “chemical ammunition” in a motel room where a man with a gun was barricaded, a department report said. He surrendered.

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