Framingham, MA – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts has complained about the state police’s bomb squad testing out robotic dog technology (video below).
Records obtained by the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request showed that the state police were loaned a dog-like robot named “Spot” from August until November by Boston Dynamics, WBUR reported.
The records did not show what exactly the police dog was used for, the ACLU complained.
Massachusetts State Police Spokesman David Procopio said the robot dog was used as a “mobile remote observation device” to provide state troopers with better visibility of suspicious devices or potentially hazardous locations, such as spots where armed suspects could be hiding, WBUR reported.
“Robot technology is a valuable tool for law enforcement because of its ability to provide situational awareness of potentially dangerous environments,” Procopio said in the written statement.
He said that robot dog was used during two actual police incidents in addition to the testing that was conducted, WBUR reported.
Michael Perry, vice president for business development at Boston Dynamics, said the goal is for “Spot” to be useful across a variety of industries including law enforcement, oil and gas, construction, and entertainment.
Perry explained the dog was designed to be able to go into places that are too dangerous for a human, such as chemical spills, suspected bombs, or hostage situations, WBUR reported.
“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,” he said.
Procopio said that robot dogs were not created to be weaponized, and that is why the company planned only to lease the equipment with agreements that prohibit using the robot to “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 told WBUR. “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.”
Massachusetts State Police never weaponized any of the dog-like robots they were loaned, according to Procopio.
But just because Boston Dynamics doesn’t want to see their technology weaponized doesn’t mean that it won’t happen, WBUR reported.
Dallas police used a bomb disposal robot armed with explosives in 2016 to neutralize the terrorist who had just killed five Dallas police officers during a Black Lives Matter rally.
Kade Crockford, director of the technology for liberty program at ACLU of Massachusetts, said it’s the deadly potential and the Massachusetts State Police’s lack of transparency that has their organization worried, according to WBUR.
“We just really don't know enough about how the state police are using this,” Crockford said. “And the technology that can be used in concert with a robotic system like this is almost limitless in terms of what kinds of surveillance and potentially even weaponization operations may be allowed.”
The ACLU said they want to see the state police’s policy about using robotics and a have a conversation about how and when the technology should be used, WBUR reported.
The state police wouldn’t confirm whether there is a robotics technology policy, nor did the ACLU records request unearth proof of one.
So the ACLU has asked state lawmakers to get involved, WBUR reported.
“We really need some law and some regulation to establish a floor of protection to ensure that these systems can't be misused or abused in the government's hands,” Crockford said. “And no, a terms of service agreement is just insufficient.”
Massachusetts State Police already has a fleet of robots, if not a policy for them, WBUR reported.
Police records showed the bomb squad has 18 robots valued at $1.8 million and that the robots are used on a weekly basis.
See how the dog-like robot works in the video below: