The Los Angeles City Council agreed to extend discussions on whether or not to deploy a robot police dog donated to LAPD by robotics company Boston Dynamics.
The vote was delayed by 60 days, as multiple council members expressed not only ethical concerns, but questions about the robot’s necessity.
“Based on what I heard, I don’t think it’s necessary to have it. Sounds like we have a lot of other machines that can do the same thing,” Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez said at the meeting Tuesday. “At the heart of a lot of these questions is does the community trust LAPD? And I think the answer is no.”
The dog is a quadruped unmanned ground vehicle that Boston Dynamics has named “Spot” and is valued at nearly $278,000. LAPD said it has worked out a two-year warranty for the robot dog for about $24,800, with the intention of extending the warranty long-term.
Deputy Chief David Kowalski, who is the Commanding Officer of LAPD’s Counter Terrorism Special Operations Bureau, said the robot dog would only be used in high-risk SWAT situations involving active shooters, hostages, barricaded suspects, hazardous-materials or search-and-rescue operations during natural disasters.
“Our goal on the deployment of this, is to maintain the public’s trust as much as possible,” Deputy Chief Kowalski said.
Kowalski added that despite the robot dog having the capability of storing payloads, there are “no circumstance” where it will carry any weapons, use facial recognition software, nor be used for surveillance, with no intent of changing the written policy on the dog’s prohibited actions.
“This is the future of policing in terms of technology and putting our officers in the best situations to save lives and prevent them or anyone from being hurt,” Deputy Chief Kowalski said. “This is a way to expand our abilities in a way that will make us even more efficient and effective in being safe.”
A representative for Boston Dynamics answered council member questions during Tuesday’s city council meeting and gave a rundown of its company’s ethical positions.
“We prohibit, in the very legal contract that all of our customers execute, including LAPD, they are prohibited from weaponizing the robot, or using the robot to harm or intimidate any person or animal,” Vice President of Policy & Government Relations at Boston Dynamics, Brendan Schulman said Tuesday. “… we’re very clear that we will not partner with, or support customers who violate civil rights, or privacy rights.”
Council President Paul Krekorian proposed extending the conversation for the robot dog, as there was a lot of uncertainty about it from the council.
The item will be brought before the council again on Friday, May 5, with Krekorian asking that the currently written policies for the robot dog be shared with council members and an opportunity to have further questions answered.
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