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Robotic Police Dogs Being Adopted Across the Country

by Michael Dean Thompson

In 2016, a lone shooter shot 12 Dallas police officers, killing five. Police eventually cornered the man in a parking garage. He had nowhere to go, but after five hours, the cops were eager to end it. So, they strapped the plastic explosive known as C4 onto an EOD “bomb” robot and directed it toward him. It is believed to have been the first time a robot was used to kill a suspect on American soil. They had no choice, they claimed. “Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger,” said Dallas Police Chief David Brown.

The bomb robot in that case was designed to defuse bombs, not to deliver them. Nevertheless, there were reports of the American military using the same types of bots to deliver duct-taped bombs. To a killer, even things meant to protect lives can become a weapon. Ryan Calo, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law who studies robotics and cyberlaw, was not concerned about the event and told the Dallas Morning News then, “I think we get worried when robots start to get used in traffic stops or stops in the street, when we start to put non-lethal weapons on drones so that the officer doesn’t even need to approach the individual.”

Maybe it’s time for him to begin worrying. Boston Dynamics’ robot dog, “Spot,” is nosing its way into police forces around the country. The Los Angeles Police Department received approval to acquire the $280,000 quadruped via a donation from its foundation (a key source of special interest dollars), which mirrors how the Houston Police Department received theirs. Ghost Robotics manufactures another quadruped, called Vision 60, for military and homeland security use. While Houston and St. Petersburg, Florida, have used Spot to confront barricaded suspects, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has been contemplating deploying the amphibious Vision 60 to patrol the border with Mexico.

The New York City Police Department has added the Knightscope K5 to its robotic arsenal that includes Spot. The K5 is a 400-pound machine that stands five feet tall. Undark.org says it resembles the Daleks on the BBC series Dr. Who (spoiler—they were not the good guys). The K5 is a surveillance bot bearing 16 microphones, GPS, thermal imaging, and—surprisingly—sonar. It not only includes automated license plate readers but can also detect and capture wireless signals. Axon Enterprise, once known as Taser International, maker of the infamous “non-lethal” gun, is researching its own robot armed with high-voltage weaponry.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors struck down a proposal by the SFPD to arm robots with lethal force weaponry. According to NPR, they wanted to arm them with explosives “in extraordinary circumstances,” rather than with guns. It happened in Iraq, then in Dallas. It is happening in Ukraine, where both sides are dropping grenades by drone, and even piloting explosive-laden kamikaze drones.

Matthew Guariglia of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told Undark, “We know from history that whenever governments deploy some kind of weapon or surveillance system in warfare, that it’s only really a matter of time before those things travel back home.”  

 

Sources: Undark.org, NPR

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