Game lets players shoot paintballs from Boston Dynamics’ robot dog

NYPD to stop using robot dog after backlash saw it compared to Black Mirror episode

The department terminated a $94,000 lease contract for the robot in April

Graig Graziosi
Thursday 29 April 2021 19:53
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It seems New York City will not be the forever-home of the NYPD's recently acquired robot dog, Digidog.

The law enforcement organisation sent their robot back to Boston Dynamics, the company that produces the machines, after residents complained that it was an unsettling and unnecessary expansion of aggressive policing in the city.

According to The New York Times, the NYPD terminated its $94,000 lease contract with Boston Dynamics effective 22 April.

The NYPD celebrated its acquisition of the robot, claiming it would be a tool that would make policing safer for both officers and the public.

Inspector Frank Digiacomo of the NYPD's technical Assistance Response Unit said the device would be used to enter places that were "too dangerous" for officers.

“This dog is going to save lives,” he said. “It’s going to protect people. It’s going to protect officers.”

One of the robot's high profile outings - a home invasion in the Bronx - resulted in critics comparing it to a surveillance drone, stirring fears it could be used as a dystopian overseer by the city's police.

The robot was later sent into a public housing building in Manhattan, which resulted in fierce backlash from community groups and residents who said the device was just another tool for police to use to harass low-income communities.

"Right now it seems to be a fancy toy in search of an actual use case," Albert Fox Cahn, the founder of the advocacy group Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), told Gothamist. "It's really alarming to see them roll out these props from a bad Black Mirror episode without any real public safety justification."

Users on social media often compare the four-legged robots to a Black Mirror episode called "Metalhead," in which robotic dogs similar in design to the ones produced by Boston Dynamics hunt down humans in a desolate, seemingly post-apocalyptic Earth.

John Miller, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, confirmed to The New York Times that the department had cancelled its contract with Boston Dynamics, complained activists had used manipulative language to turn public perception against the police-controlled robotic dog equipped with surveillance equipment and enough strength to help tow an 18-wheeler.

“People had figured out the catchphrases and the language to somehow make this evil,” Mr Miller said.

The department's disappointment with the public's turn on Digidog was not shared by the mayor's office.

Bill Neidhart, a spokesman for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, said he was "glad the Digidog was put down."

“It’s creepy, alienating and sends the wrong message to New Yorkers,” Mr Neidhardt told The Times.

Boston Dynamics has said the robots were not designed to be used "as weapons, inflict harm or intimidate people or animals” and that the majority of the devices that have been sold are in use by utility companies or other commercial industries that require workers to operate in dangerous situations.

“We support local communities reviewing the allocation of public funds, and believe Spot is a cost-effective tool comparable to historical robotic devices used by public safety to inspect hazardous environments,” a Boston Dynamics spokeswoman said.

"Spot" is the name the company uses for the robots.

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