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Society

Beware: Robot Police Dogs May Be Coming To Your City, Training Still Required

Numerous cities have acquired dog-like robots for policing. Researchers say the lack of transparency and other practical and ethical questions are worrying.

Pic of a robot dog with a police officer

Walking robot for Baden-Württemberg police

Rod McCollom

In late May, after months of debate, the Los Angeles City Council approved the donation of a four-legged, doglike robot to the nation’s third-largest police department. The approval was granted at a public meeting that was interrupted at times by shouting, applause, banners such as “No Robot Dogs,” and the ejection of disruptive protesters, according to The Los Angeles Times.

In the end, the council voted 8 to 4 to accept the nearly $280,000 in-kind gift from the Los Angeles Police Foundation of the robot manufactured by Boston Dynamics, a Massachusetts-based robotics firm that is the global leader in developing quadruped robots for policing and surveillance.

The Boston Dynamics model given to the LAPD — named "Spot" by its manufacturer — is roughly the size of a golden retriever, weighing about 70 pounds and standing about 2 feet tall when walking. The robot is designed to be either remote controlled or fully autonomous. It can climb stairs and open doors. The robot can be customized to detect hazardous substances like carbon monoxide or some combustible gases. The various payloads available include sensors, cameras, and microphones, and can be customized with thermal imaging, among other features.

The Los Angeles City Council’s move to accept the donation will require quarterly reports on the deployment and use of the robot. Its sign-off was necessary as a result of a recent state law — Assembly Bill 481 — that requires police departments to seek approval and outline use policies before acquiring military-grade hardware.


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