Another American city is making use of robotic cops. New York’s new mayor, Eric Adams, has restarted a controversial program that uses Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot in a law enforcement capacity. In addition, another type of surveillance robot is going on patrol in the city. It can effectively be dressed up as a Dalek from Doctor Who, for the vandalism-minded.
Robots working in cities aren’t a new phenomenon. Usually, these robots are purpose-built for tasks like bomb disposal. Sometimes, as in the recent case in San Francisco, cities will make foolish decisions for these machines (like giving them permission to kill suspects). New York’s application isn’t quite as short-sighted but it’s still concerning.
What’s new, New York?
The larger robotic patrolman is the Knightscope K5, a cone-shaped ‘bot that has achieved a sort of… notoriety. One famously offed itself by driving into a pond. Another ran over a small child in a shopping centre. These are unusual because the K5 is basically just a trundling collection of sensors. It’s capable of 360° video capture, has “thermal anomaly detection”, includes license plate recognition systems, and also includes LiDAR, sonar, and GPS systems, plus various microphones and audio playback (live or recorded). Facial recognition is also a capability but New York’s police department says that this feature won’t be used*.
Boston Dynamics Spot will resume patrols in the American city, following a shuttered program that saw the quadruped patrolling New York in 2021. Mayor Adams, a former NYPD captain, obviously doesn’t have quite so many concerns over the robot’s role in police action.
Spot will be avoiding autonomous patrols for the present. This makes a kind of sense. The robot only weighs about 32 kilograms and sending it out alone in the Big Apple is just asking for trouble. Instead, it’ll be used for hostage situations and other scenarios where conditions hazardous to humans are present. This iteration of Spot will include 360º video capability, thermal optics, two-way audio, and the Spot Arm™, which is used for opening doors and manipulating objects. But at least it’s not fitted with weapons the way Ghost Robotics’ SPUR is. And that’ll never change. Right?
*Press X to doubt