Honolulu homeless robot temperature testing slammed as 'inhuman'

Occurred: January 2022

Honolulu's police department use of a robotic dog to take the temperatures of homeless people sparked controversy, with critics describing the practice as 'inhuman' and 'dystopian'. 

Using a public records request, VICE discovered that the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) deployed a Boston Dynamics Spot robot dog on regular 'temperature' duty of unhoused people living in encampments. The HPD spent USD 150,045 in federal funds earmarked for COVID-19 pandemic relief to acquire the Boston Dynamics Spot robot, according to city spending data first uncovered by Honolulu Civil Beat.

Honolulu PD officer Mike Lambert described it as 'the most innovative program in the nation' during a city council meeting, while HPD Deputy Director described the robot as 'more than a ‘thermometer'' in an email interview with Civil Beat. In the same report, another officer described the purchase as 'Toys, toys, toys'.

However, civil rights groups condemned the robot's use as an unacceptable violation of human dignity, the de facto normalisation of dehumanising practices, a violation of privacy due to the lack of consent provided, another example of the ongoing militarisation of policing, and a potential gateway to expanded surveillance and policing of marginalised communities.

Boston Dynamics' acceptable use guidelines prohibit Spot’s weaponisation or anything that would violate privacy or civil rights laws.

Operator: Honolulu Police Department
Developer: Hyundai Motor Group/Boston Dynamics

Country: USA

Sector: Govt - police

Purpose: Detect body temperature

Technology: Robotics

Issue: Bias/discrimination; Human/civil rights; Privacy; Surveillance
Transparency: Governance

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: January 2022
Last updated: June 2024