In a nutshell: We’ve been reporting on Boston Dynamics’ robot dog, Spot, for years now, though its practical applications haven’t been too clear. But Massachusetts State Police (MSP) bomb squad has been using the quadruped since April, where it’s been utilized as a “mobile remote observation device.”
Last we heard of Spot was in September, when Boston Dynamics announced it was going on sale to companies in “select industries.” They’re said to be as expensive as a luxury automobile, but the MSP decided to lease one instead, from August to November.
Radio station WBUR and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts reported on the use of Spot by the MSP. A spokesperson for the force said the robot was used to keep watch on suspicious devices and dangerous locations. It’s been involved in at least two police “incidents,” though it’s not specified what they were.
While the idea of a robotic police dog might conjure images of a metal canine with attached weapons, Boston Dynamics says (via Gizmodo) that its written license agreement with Spot customers does not permit it for any purpose that would harm or intimidate people.
Interestingly, the deal between the company and MSP states that the department can’t post any public photos of Spot—police aren’t actually allowed to take any photos of it. Yet Boston Dynamics showed a video of its robot being used by the MSP at a conference earlier this year.
The ACLU has warned there's a lot people don’t know about how robotics systems are used and where in Massachusetts they’re currently deployed.
“All too often, the deployment of these technologies happens faster than our social, political, or legal systems react. We urgently need more transparency from government agencies, who should be upfront with the public about their plans to test and deploy new technologies. We also need statewide regulations to protect civil liberties, civil rights, and racial justice in the age of artificial intelligence,” said Kade Crockford, Technology for Liberty program director at the ACLU of Massachusetts.