Police in the US are using Boston Dynamics’ robotic dog Spot

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For a long time Boston Dynamics have been fuelling our nightmares with robotic creatures that could become a part of our everyday lives.

Now, a report in the US has revealed that Boston Dynamics’ Spot is being used by Massachusetts State Police (MSP).

The robotic dog was loaned to the police department between August and November and was reportedly only used in two incidents.

What exactly those incidents are is unclear but a spokesperson has said it was used as a mobile remote observation device used to keep watch over dangerous devices and locations. The robotic creature was also tested.

This is according to records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union which were publicised by US radio station WBUR.

The good news is that Spot doesn’t appear to have been used in an aggressive capacity. This is largely thanks to Boston Dynamics’ licensing agreement which states Spot cannot be used to physically harm somebody.

“Part of our early evaluation process with customers is making sure that we’re on the same page for the usage of the robot,” vice president of business development at Boston Dynamics, Michael Perry, said in a statement.

“So upfront, we’re very clear with our customers that we don’t want the robot being used in a way that can physically harm somebody,” Perry added.

However, the ACLU and other civil societies in the US are concerned about the lack of transparency on the part of the police regarding the use of robots.

As WBUR points out, back in 2016 Dallas Police used a bomb disposal robot to kill a sniper who had shot civilians and police officers.

“We just really don’t know enough about how the state police are using this,” director of the technology liberty program at ACLU, Kade Crockford, told WBUR.

“And the technology that can be used in concert with a robotic system like this is almost limitless in terms of what kinds of surveillance and potentially even weaponization operations may be allowed,” Crockford said.

The ACLU is urging lawmakers and police to consider how robots are used in law enforcement. The union has also requested that MSP disclose details of its relationship with Ghost Robotics, iRobot, Endeavor and Boston Dynamics

While nothing bad has happened with Spot being used by MSP, it is important that law enforcement is clear how robots are being used.

For now Spot appears to be a helpful tool but whether it remains that way will largely be determined by how law enforcement makes use of tech like Spot.

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.