NYPD brings back the Digidog robot dog, two years after tearing up its contract with Boston Dynamics
"The NYPD is turning bad science fiction into terrible policing"By Rob Thubron 7 comments
A hot potato: The New York Police Department has welcomed back one of its former officers: Digidog, a heavily modified Spot robot dog from Boston Dynamics. Its return comes two years after the NYPD canceled its contract with the robotics company after a backlash over Digidog's potential surveillance abilities and the fact that it reminds people of the Metalhead robot from dystopian TV series Black Mirror.
NYC Mayor Eric Adams announced the return of Digidog in press conference yesterday, claiming that the remote-controlled machine could "save lives." It's a stark contrast to former New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's spokesperson, Bill Neidhardt, who in 2021 said it was creepy, alienating, and sent the wrong message to New Yorkers.
Spot did see some success during its first spell at the NYPD. It was deployed during a 2020 incident for reconnaissance purposes when a gunman holed himself up in a basement following a shooting. It was used in the same capacity a year later to investigate a house during a home invasion before officers entered.
But it was video footage of that second incident that led to criticism over Digidog's use, led by US House of Representatives member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Then-mayor de Blasio told the NYPD to "rethink" how it used the robot. The force quickly terminated its $94,000 contract with Boston Dynamics.
.@NYPDnews has always been on the cutting edge of public safety. They upgrade, evaluate and innovate new ways to protect our city. Today we saw that in action in @TimesSquareNYC. https://t.co/T9JhptafL1– Mayor Eric Adams (@NYCMayor) April 11, 2023
But Digidog is back, and with it comes two other forms of security and surveillance tech being used by the NYPD: StarChase's vehicle-mounted/handheld GPS launcher that deploys a GPS tracking tag onto a suspect's vehicle; and Knightscope's K5 ASR, a "fully autonomous outdoor security robot." You might remember how the previous versions of this robot once allegedly knocked down a toddler, and in 2017 threw itself (or fell) into a fountain. There was also an incident in which a man punched one of the robots to the ground. He was said to be drunk at the time but still managed to take the 300-pound machine down with his fists.
"This is the beginning of a series of rollouts we are going to do to show how public safety has transformed itself," 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."
The NYPD will acquire two robot dogs for a total of $750,000. They will only be used in life-threatening situations such as bomb threats, writes the New York Times.
Not everyone is pleased to see Digidog's return. The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP)'s executive director, Albert Fox Cahn, said, "The NYPD is turning bad science fiction into terrible policing. New York deserves real safety, not a knockoff robocop. Wasting public dollars to invade New Yorkers' privacy is a dangerous police stunt."