New York Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell have announced the deployment of three advanced policing devices aimed at enhancing security in the city’s streets. The devices include a K-9 robot, dubbed Digidog or Spot, a StarChase projectile, and an Autonomous Security Robot (ASR). The K-9 robot has caused controversy, with some members of the public expressing concerns about its use in law enforcement.
Developed by Boston Dynamics, Digidog is designed to be used in situations deemed too hazardous for humans, such as construction sites or counterterrorism operations. Adams defended the use of Digidog, stating that it could be used in situations where it would be unsafe to send police officers. The NYPD also plans to test StarChase, which can affix a GPS-enabled device to a vehicle to allow remote tracking. The ASR is an automated robot that can carry out patrols and notify first responders of incidents in real-time.
Critics have labeled Digidog “creepy” and “dystopian.” Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, stated that the NYPD was “transforming bad science fiction into terrible policing.” The Legal Aid Society issued a statement denouncing the “new dystopian technologies to monitor New Yorkers.”
Despite the backlash, the New York authorities have decided to continue with the programme. Adams said that he believed technology was here to stay and that he could not be afraid of it. The NYPD had previously sent Digidog back to Boston Dynamics in 2021 following residents’ complaints about its use. However, the robot is set to return to service after Mayor Adams defended its use.
Critics have compared Digidog to a surveillance drone following its use by law enforcement officials in a home invasion in the Bronx in 2021. There are fears that it could be used as a dystopian overseer by the police. New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called out the use of the robot dog in 2021 and tweeted that it was being tested on low-income communities of color with under-resourced schools.
The NYPD had canceled its $94,000 lease contract with Boston Dynamics following the backlash. The police force will now reportedly acquire two robot dogs for a total of $750,000. The Digidogs are expected to be used only during life-threatening situations like bomb threats. The NYPD is also piloting two other technologies, including a handheld or car-mounted launcher that shoots GPS tags onto vehicles to help track them during chases and a fully autonomous outdoor security robot.
In conclusion, while the deployment of advanced policing devices may enhance security in New York City, the use of these devices has sparked controversy among some members of the public. The NYPD’s decision to continue with the programme despite the backlash has raised concerns about the potential misuse of these devices.