Black mirror? NYC robot dog joins police force

NYC robot dog seen on the street.— Twitter/@NYCMayorsOffice
NYC robot dog seen on the street.— Twitter/@NYCMayorsOffice

The deployment of three advanced policing devices, including a remote-controlled robot that has sparked controversy, has been announced by New York Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell. This new NYC robot dog is also being called “black mirror robot dog” referring to an episode of a dystopian TV show.

The devices are aimed at enhancing security in the city’s streets, with the four-legged K-9 robot, dubbed Digidog or Spot, being the most contentious. 

Developed by Boston Dynamics, the robot dog is designed to be used in situations deemed too hazardous for humans. — Twitter/@NYCMayorsOffice
Developed by Boston Dynamics, the robot dog is designed to be used in situations deemed too hazardous for humans. — Twitter/@NYCMayorsOffice

Developed by Boston Dynamics, the robot is designed to be used in situations deemed too hazardous for humans, such as construction sites or counterterrorism operations.

“If you have a barricaded suspect, if you have someone that’s inside a building that is armed, instead of sending police in there, you send Digidog in there,” Adams said. “So these are smart ways of using good technologies.”

Apart from Digidog, the NYPD plans to test two other cutting-edge technologies, namely StarChase and a K-5 Autonomous Security Robot (ASR). StarChase is a projectile that can affix a GPS-enabled device to a vehicle, allowing law enforcement agencies to remotely track it. 

The purpose of using StarChase is to locate “ghost cars” — vehicles with stolen plates that are used to commit other crimes, control vehicle pursuits and ensure the safety of the public and law enforcement personnel.

“This is a game changer,” the NYPD said.

K5 ASR pilot will help conduct automated patrol in confined areas. — Twitter/@NYCMayorsOffice
K5 ASR pilot will help conduct automated patrol in confined areas. — Twitter/@NYCMayorsOffice

In the meantime, the ASR is an automated robot that can carry out patrols and notify first responders of incidents in real-time in high-traffic locations such as Times Square or subway stations.

While officials have commended the NYPD’s adoption of innovative technologies, some members of the public have expressed concerns about the new devices. NYC robot dog, in particular, has faced significant criticism since it was first announced in 2020, as reported by The New York Times. Critics have labelled it “creepy” and “dystopian,” and similar comments have surfaced following the mayor’s recent announcement.

Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, commented, “The NYPD is transforming bad science fiction into terrible policing. New York City deserves actual safety, not a copycat RoboCop.”

The Legal Aid Society also issued a statement denouncing the “new dystopian technologies to monitor New Yorkers.”

“This announcement is also another example of the NYPD’s violation of basic norms of transparency and accountability by rolling out these technologies without providing the public a meaningful opportunity to raise concerns,” the statement said.

However, the New York authorities have decided to continue with the programme and not bow down to the pressure.

“I believe that technology is here; we cannot be afraid of it,” Adams said. “A few loud people were opposed to it, and we took a step back — that is not how I operate. I operate on looking at what’s best for the city.”

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