It’s happening. The state-of-the-art robots we’ve seen from Boston Dynamics are finally being used in real-world scenarios, and one of the first examples we have is the deployment of the company’s Spot robot dog alongside the Massachusetts State Police Bomb Squad. Boston Dynamics only leased Spot to the state’s bomb squad for 90 days; quite likely, this is a first step in the direction of mass adoption of the ever-evolving quadrupedal robots.
Mass. State Police are the first law enforcement agency in the country to get to use Spot. But Boston Dynamics is looking to lease the robot to others, so expect to see more police agencies adding Spot to their fleet. https://t.co/SVTjc0J2bJ pic.twitter.com/4tVBOtqIEk
— ally jarmanning (@allyjarmanning) November 25, 2019
Engadget reported on the leasing of Spot by the Massachusetts State Bomb Squad, a development that was originally discovered by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and made widely known by Boston’s NPR station, WBUR. In a lease agreement obtained by the ACLU, Boston Dynamics agreed to loan out Spot to the state’s bomb squad in order to evaluate “the robot’s capabilities in law enforcement applications, particularly remote inspection of potentially dangerous environments which may contain suspects and ordinances.”
According to the WBUR report, the 90-day trial period took place from August through November, during which Spot was used “to provide troopers with images of suspicious devices or potentially hazardous locations, like where an armed suspect might be hiding.” A state police spokesperson told WBUR that Spot was used in two “incidents” alongside normal testing, although the details of those events are completely unknown. WBUR did interview a former SWAT commander, however, who said bomb squads use the robots they already have. They help deal with situations including barricaded suspects and hostage situations.
A commercial from Boston Dynamics for their Spot robot dog.
In regards to Spot’s actual capabilities, there’s a good chance you’re one of the millions of people who’s already seen the highly adaptable machine in action. In the above commercial, we get a sense of the way Spot navigates its terrain. It roams across obstacle-filled stages, which it can do autonomously, or under the commands of a remote controller. Specs wise, Spot can walk at about 3.6 mph and has 360-degree cameras for complete visibility of its surroundings. It can also operate in temperatures ranging from -4 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit. It can also have a neck with a gripper on the end of its base torso-and-legs layout.
The ACLU told WBUR this is a clear example of a why we need policies regarding how law enforcement uses robots. Even though police departments across the country already use robots, none of them have the same adaptability as Spot. This is thanks to Spot’s versatile legs. Some Spot models, according to The Verge, are also being outfitted with LIDAR systems that can create 3D maps of their surrounding environments. (LIDAR systems also aid some self-driving cars. Although it’s still unclear if LIDAR will actually lead to cars, or robots, that can navigate their surroundings with full autonomy.)
As far as speculation about how Spot robot dogs will be used in the future by law enforcement, it seems like nothing is off the table, especially if government policies aren’t put in place to regulate their usage. Although there is one caveat to that. A Boston Dynamics spokesperson told WBUR that the company doesn’t want to weaponize Spot. Its lease agreement with the Massachusetts State Bomb Squad had a clause preempting “physically harm or intimidating people”. Unfortunately, even though BD says not to use Spot in this manner, watching Spot in action is truly intimidating.
What do you think of this deployment of Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot dog? Give us your thoughts in the comments.
Feature image: MA State Police via TechCrunch