The NYPD retires “Digidog” robot after public backlash

The NYPD's Digidog is just a Boston Dynamics robot in blue livery.

Enlarge / The NYPD’s Digidog is just a Boston Dynamics robot in blue livery. (credit: Daniel Valls/FNTV

The Guardian reports that the New York Police Department is retiring “Digidog,” a Boston Dynamics Spot robot the state started testing in December. The department described the robot as a tool to defuse dangerous situations and said it would help officers stay out of harm’s way. In an environment where critics question the amount of resources police departments are given, having a state-of-the-art robot dog patrolling the streets of NYC drew a lot of negative attention and viral videos. The local ABC News affiliate reports testing was supposed to continue until August.

With the robot set to be returned to Boston Dynamics, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is “glad the Digidog was put down,” adding through a spokesperson the robot is “creepy, alienating, and sends the wrong message to New Yorkers.” The police signed a $94,200 contract for the robot, about enough for one $74,500 spot unit and one 360 degree “Spot Cam” camera for $21,800. US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez argued that money should be invested in communities instead, saying, “When was the last time you saw next-generation, world class technology for education, healthcare, housing, etc consistently prioritized for underserved communities like this?”

Seeing the cops with a high-tech robot dog naturally sent imaginations running wild, but Spot is just a human-operated mobile camera, as opposed to an autonomous, weaponized dog version of Robocop. Boston Dynamics terms of sale actually prohibit weaponizing Spot, with the “Prohibited uses” section (5.2) banning “intentional use of the Equipment to harm or intimidate any person or animal, as a weapon, or to enable any weapon.” Rules are only good if they’re enforced, though, and there’s an argument to be made that police use counts as “intimidation.” Either way, arming the police with a new, $100,000 surveillance device did not earn a lot of praise.

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