The New York Police Department is rehiring Digidog, the four-legged robot deployed by the city a few years ago. as previously reported by The New York Times. NYC Mayor Eric Adams announced the news at a press event on Tuesday, stating that using Digidog in the city “could save lives”.
Digidog – also known as Spot – is a remote-controlled robot created by Hyundai-owned Boston Dynamics. Are designed to work in situations that could pose a threat to people, such as carrying out inspections in hazardous areas and monitoring construction sites. However, Boston Dynamics also touts its use as a public safety toolwhat the NYPD has tried in the past.
In 2020 the NYPD used the Digidog for recon during a situation where a gunman had barricaded the inside of a building and redeployed the robot during a 2021 home invasion to get a glimpse of what was happening inside the house. After critics spoke out against the use of the Digidog over concerns about surveillance and police arming, the NYPD quickly canceled its contract with Boston Dynamics.
The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), a group advocating against the use of local and state level surveillance, has denounced Mayor Adams’ move. “The NYPD is turning bad science fiction into terrible police work,” Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of STOP, said in a statement. “New York deserves real security, not a fake robot. Wasting public dollars to violate the privacy of New Yorkers is a dangerous police stunt.”
City officials say the NYPD will acquire two robot dogs for a total of $750,000, according to the NYTand that they will only be used in life-threatening situations, such as bomb threats.
“I believe technology is here; we can’t be afraid of it,” Mayor Adams said at Tuesday’s press conference. “A few loud people were against it, and we backed off – that’s not how I work. I work to see what is best for the city.”
The renewed city approval of Digidog allays the same concerns about the NYPD’s use of public funds, along with the effect the camera-equipped robot could have on privacy and public safety. There have not yet been any instances of the Digidog being used as a weapon, and doing so would violate Boston Dynamics’ terms of service.
In addition to Digidog’s deployment, Mayor Adams and the NYPD also announced that it will be testing two additional equally disturbing types of technologies. The first is using StarChase’s Guardian HX, a handheld or car-mounted launcher which shoots GPS tracking tags at vehicles to track them during chases. There’s also the K5 ASR, a machine from a company called Knightscope that is described as a “fully autonomous outdoor security robot.” As noted by the NYT, the NYPD will use the bot to gather intelligence.
NYC Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said at the news conference that the NYPD’s rollout of these technologies will be “transparent, consistent and always in collaboration with the people we serve.” She also added that neither Digidog nor the K5 ASR would use facial recognition technology.
When asked what the NYPD is doing differently to address residents’ concerns about safety and surveillance, Adams said the city is displaying all three machines in Times Square. “Digidog is out of the pound,” says Adams. “This is the beginning of a series of deployments we’ll be doing to show how public safety has transformed itself.”