Company behind robot-dogs headed to US-Mexico border insists they cannot malfunction

‘There’s no way they’re going to be taking over anything’

Gino Spocchia
Monday 21 February 2022 16:44
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US military tests ‘robot dogs’ designed for Medixo border

The company behind so-called “robot dogs” that will soon patrol the US border with Mexico has defended the technology from accusations of “militarisation” and resource waste.

Jiren Parikh, the CEO of Ghost Robotics, said in an interview on Saturday there was “nothing to be afraid of” after images of the “robot dogs” were unveiled by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this month.

“We’re focused on doing the right thing,” the CEO of the Philadelphia-based company said to CNN. “We want to do the right thing for the national security and for the country.”

Although the DHS has said the “robot dogs” are still a work in progress, images of the test runs carried out by Ghost Robotics and the agency attracted concern among human rights groups earlier this month.

Democrat congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who claimed investing in robot technology for the US-Mexico border was “shameful”, also said “immigrant and Latino communities” would be offended by the investment.

“It’s shameful how both parties fight tooth and nail to defend their ability to pump endless public money into militarisation,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez tweeted of the DHS “robot dogs” on 5 February.

“From tanks in police depts to corrupt military contracts, funding this violence is bipartisan and non-controversial, yet healthcare and housing isn’t. It’s BS,” she wrote. “Immigrant and Latino communities notice this hypocrisy on immigration big time too.”

The federal agency said a in press release that the robots were “critical to our nation’s security” and would eventually work along with DHS and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) personnel at the southern border.

Crimes cited by the DHS included drug smuggling and human smuggling, which it said was difficult to detect in more “extreme” parts of the border zone.

“The goal of the program is to leverage technology to force-multiply the CBP presence, as well as reduce human exposure to life-threatening hazards,” the agency said.

A robot dog operating alongside ATVs in the southwest US

Responding to criticism and alarm, Mr Parikh continued by telling CNN: “It’s just another sensor carrier. It’s really at a distance.... It’s really for sensing around the environment. It’s not really interacting with people.”

“That’s not what it’s made for. There’s no weapons on it,” the CEO added of the militarisation claims. “It’s not being militarised for the border. It’s not stopping people, saying ‘don’t go here.’ It can’t do that. It’s a small robot.”

Vicki Gaubeca, the head of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, also reportedly said the initiative was “alarming and outrageous” as well a waste of resources.

“This really felt like a slap in the face,” said Ms Gaubeca. “There are other technologies that they’re already using that we feel like they should cut back on, and yet they’re adding on another type of surveillance technology that’s frightening, to be honest.”

She added: “This certainly seems like it’s something that’s built for something very aggressive, like the theaters of war, rather than in a community.”

Ghost Robotic’s CEO added that the robots were “a battery-operated computer that moves around on four legs that literally stops operating in four hours. There’s no way they’re going to be taking over anything.”

“It’s a robot that’s remotely controlled by a human in the middle,” said Mr Parikh.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s criticism of the DHS “robot dogs” came after the New York Police Department (NYPD) was criticised by the New York congresswoman for introducing robotic “dogs” to the city in February 2021.

“Shout out to everyone who fought against community advocates who demanded these resources go to investments like school counseling instead,” she tweeted at the time. “Now robotic surveillance ground drones are being deployed for testing on low-income communities of color with under-resourced schools.”

The NYPD’s contract with the robot supplier was axed shortly after.

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