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Spot, Boston Dynamics' robot that looks like a dog, is being used by the police in Massachusetts, becoming what appears to be the first law enforcement agency in the U.S. to rely on a robot police dog.
WBUR reviewed documents obtained by the American Civil Union of Massachusetts, showing the bomb squad unit borrowed Spot from Boston Dynamics for a three month period that started in August and runs until November.
The documents don't say what Spot was used for but a state police spokesman told WBUR Spot was being used as a "mobile remote observation device" in support of troopers who are dealing with suspicious devices or when armed suspects are hiding out.
“Robot technology is a valuable tool for law enforcement because of its ability to provide situational awareness of potentially dangerous environments,” state police spokesman David Procopio wrote to WBUR.
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Spot can go where humans shouldn't
Boston Dynamics envisions Spot being used in areas that are hazardous such as chemical spills, hostage situations or a potential bomb. “Right now, our primary interest is sending the robot into situations where you want to collect information in an environment where it's too dangerous to send a person, but not actually physically interacting with the space,” Michael Perry, vice president for business development at Boston Dynamics said in the report.
While Boston Dynamic's Perry is upbeat about Spot's future, privacy advocates are downright frightened by the idea Spot is being used in an American police force. They point to the fact that Spot is a general-purpose robot which mean he can be customized. It also has a 360-degree low light camera.
Not just any company can use Spot
Perry said to prevent Spot from becoming a weapon there is a clause in the contract that prohibits users from using Spot in a way that could physically harm or intimidate people.
“Part of our early evaluation process with customers is making sure that we're on the same page for the usage of the robot,” he said. “So upfront, we're very clear with our customers that we don't want the robot being used in a way that can physically harm somebody,” Perry noted that protecting humanity is one of the reasons Spot can only be leased not purchased. Boston Scientific wants to be selective in which companies use the technology.