Massachusetts State Police Becomes First Agency To Test Out Robot Dog

By Bill Galluccio

November 26, 2019

The Massachusetts State Police have been quietly testing Boston Dynamics' robot dog named Spot and took it out into the field on two separate occasions. Boston Dynamics has been leasing Spot to a variety of companies, though it does prohibit them from using the robot dog to harm or intimidate people.

Spot comes equipped with 360-degree video capabilities and is capable of walking up a flight of stairs and traversing uneven terrain. It can also open doors, using a mechanical arm that extends from its head. The robodog is powered by a rechargeable battery that can last about 90 minutes per charge. It has a max speed of three miles per hour and can hold a payload of 30 pounds. It is capable of operating autonomously, though it can also be controlled by a human operator using a remote control.

While the terms of the lease prevent the Massachusetts State Police from publicly sharing photos and videos of Spot in action, Boston Dynamics shared a video clip featuring Spot opening doors during a conference earlier in the year.

The American Civil Liberties Union is concerned with law enforcement agencies using robots, while rules for their deployment are not defined.

"There is a lot we do not know about how and where these robotics systems are currently deployed in Massachusetts," Kade Crockford, Technology for Liberty program director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, told Gizmodo via email. "All too often, the deployment of these technologies happens faster than our social, political, or legal systems react. We urgently need more transparency from government agencies, who should be upfront with the public about their plans to test and deploy new technologies. We also need statewide regulations to protect civil liberties, civil rights, and racial justice in the age of artificial intelligence."

Boston Dynamics defended their decision to lease Spot to the police and said they envision a future in which their robots are used to keep people out of harm's way.

"Sending a nimble robot like Spot into these situations can remove humans from potentially life-threatening environments and provide emergency responders with better situational awareness of a crisis. These are the same capabilities that oil and gas, electric utility, nuclear decomissioning [sic]and mining customers will use to perform critical safety inspections without exposing people to risk."

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