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US POLICE HAVE STARTED TESTING ROBOT DOGS

Massachusetts: Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union have revealed that Massachusetts police have started testing the capabilities of robotic police dogs.

As reported by WSBR Boston, the documents confirm the Massachusetts State Police leased Spot the robot dog from August to November 2019.

A police spokesperson confirmed that Spot has been used in two incidents, mostly as a “mobile remote observation device”.

Vice President for Business Development Michael Perry told WSBR that a rental condition stipulates that Spot is not allowed to be weaponised.

“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,” Perry said.

This sentiment was echoed by the Massachusetts police department although they were not able to confirm the exact tasks that Spot was carrying out.

For Queensland University of Technology Senior Robotics Lecturer Dr Feras Dayoub, the greatest concern is when the introduction of technology outstrips the introduction of policy.

“Every time [the police] use a technology there should be policy and guidelines and transparency to cover the use,” he told The Feed.

“[The introduction of Spot] will open many questions and these are the questions we should be asking now.”

There have been several instances where technology has been introduced before policy by US police.

Dr Dayoub says that robots have been used in police work for years and, despite the very convincing videos, Spot is mostly remote controlled.

“Currently, it gives you an assisted autonomy, it has more capabilities but really it’s not a huge step forward,” he says.

“For example, the arm manipulation is not an easy task to do autonomously, you may have seen a video of the robot open a door and walk through. This is a person controlling the robot.”

While the multi-terrain capabilities of Spot are impressive, Dr Dayoub says that there’s a long way to go before the public needs to be wary of killer robot dogs the likes of which we’ve seen in Black Mirror.

“We are not there yet technology wise, machine learning software is almost there but in-body AI – we’re just not there,” he says.

However, he says we’re not completely out of the woods.

There will come a time where these robots are completely autonomous but it will happen gradually and the policy makers need to catch up before then.

While the technology for autonomous robot dogs doesn’t exist yet, Dr Dayoub is confident assisted autonomy robots like Spot will eventually become everyday objects.