New York City introduces crime-fighting robot dogs to the NYPD


Pixabay | mohamed_hassan

Aissata Sow

Years ago, the idea of a robotic police force may have sounded like the premise for a futuristic dystopian film, but it is reality for New Yorkers as of April 11.

In a press event, New York City Mayor Eric Adams unveiled three new additions to the New York City Police Department that “could save lives.”

Of the three new additions, one is already familiar to the public. Digidog, a robot dog nicknamed “Spot,” was utilized by the NYPD in 2020 under former Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Robodog Spot quickly left the NYPD after rising protests against the use of robots in the police force amid other ethical concerns.

Adams intends to use Digidog in risky situations like hostage crises and bomb-risk scenarios. This reintroduction comes with a hefty price tag of $7.5 million for just two robots.

The second addition to the NYPD is StarChase, a robot designed to attach GPS devices to speeding vehicles. This robot will allow officers to track and locate stolen cars and vehicles that are speeding without expending NYPD cars. StarChase is NYPD’s attempt at counteracting the increase in car-related thefts and burglaries.

The third addition is a K5 Autonomous Security Robot. It is equipped with artificial intelligence, a 360-degree eye-level video feed, 16 microphones and a license plate reader to patrol busy areas in NYC, like train stations.

Currently, ASR is being used in malls and college campuses country-wide. Ideally, it will be used to identify threats in public areas and alert first responders.

The public is currently to accept the new NYPD robots. Concerns are being raised about the increased militarization of the NYPD and the allocation of funding towards technology rather than social services. The legality and ethics of what are essentially robot cops are being debated.

Conflicts against human police officers can be settled in law courts because a police officer is an individual. With the addition of robots, there is a question of who is responsible for any misconduct done by the robot.

Additionally, there is the fear that with the addition of advanced artificial intelligence, the robots could go from remote-controlled tools to autonomous decision-makers that make actual law enforcement decisions. This is especially risky because datasets used to train AI are faulty and, in some cases, significantly biased against certain racial or ethnic groups.

While StarChase and ASR are pilot programs, Digidog is already incorporated into NYPD practices and will be staying indefinitely. The NYPD reassured the public that none of the robots are currently equipped with facial recognition technology.