New York 'digidog' hostage surveillance

Occurred: February 2021

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Images of an automated New York Police Department (NYPD) 'digidog' equipped with surveillance cameras responding to a hostage situation have drawn complaints from the local community, rights activists, and politicians. 

The NYPD used the Boston Dynamics-manufactured Spot dog to surveil a house in the Bronx in which two men were holding two others hostage. The suspects were later arrested. 

The incident prompted concerns about the technical capabilities of the robot, the scope for misuse and abuse, and its use in lower-income communities. It also raised questions about transparency, with the ACLU asking why the NYPD had failed to list it on its public disclosure of surveillance devices.

The Honolulu Police Department has since been found to have been using Spot to take the temperature of homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boston Robotics is one of six robotics companies that wrote an open letter pledging not to pursue or allow the weaponisation of their general-purpose robots.

In April 2023, the NYPD announced the acquisition of two Digidogs, at a cost of USD 750,000. 

Operator: New York Police Department (NYPD)
Developer: Hyundai Motor Group/Boston Dynamics
Country: USA
Sector: Automotive
Purpose: Strengthen law enforcement
Technology: Robotics
Issue: Bias/discimination - race, ethnicity; Dual/multi-use; Privacy; Surveillance
Transparency: Governance

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: February 2021
Last updated: October 2022