Winnipeg police acquire controversial robot dog

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The Winnipeg Police Service is set to acquire a pricey dog-shaped robot, to be used in hostage situations, that's already been ditched by police in New York City.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/07/2021 (424 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Police Service is set to acquire a pricey dog-shaped robot, to be used in hostage situations, that’s already been ditched by police in New York City.

“Spot” is made by Boston Dynamics, which sells the device for US$74,500. Winnipeg police are spending $257,000 to acquire and use Spot. The 32-kilogram robot “has the ability to navigate obstacles, uneven terrain (and) situations where our traditional robot platforms can’t go into,” said Insp. Brian Miln at a news conference Wednesday.

The cost will be covered by the province’s proceeds-of-crime fund: money and assets seized from criminals which is used to pay for police resources.

The province announced Wednesday more than $600,000 from the fund would be used to pay for the robot and other projects, including training to deal with Indigenous protesters.

Currently, officers use small robots that move on tracks or wheels to record information or assess suspicious packages. The new, four-legged robot dog has the ability to walk up and down stairs, open doorknobs and facilitate a conversation remotely.

The funding will help police acquire the device, take training and outfit Spot, so that it can enter a barricaded home or hostage-taking, see who’s inside and remotely facilitate a verbal conversation. That currently can’t be done unless an officer opens a door, Miln said.

“We’re excited to have the funding to get this (as it) prevents us from having to put an officer in harm’s way.”

The New York Police Department stopped using the robot in April, after citizens complained it was creepy. Democrat representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dubbed it a “robotic surveillance ground drone.” The force cancelled its contract for the device, which it had dubbed “Digidog.”

Winnipeg police will use some of the other criminal-forfeiture funding to digitize records, increase the ranks of the child-porn task force and train officers to liaise with Indigenous protesters.

“We’d like to liaise with groups that are organizing well in advance of a protest, so our members are being trained to do that appropriately and professionally,” Chief Danny Smyth said, adding it would help “identify and meet with organizers, and set the tone so everyone can do their thing peacefully.”

The robotic dog "Spot" is seen operating a switch in a video made by its manufacturer, Boston Dynamics. (YouTube)

Since 2009, the fund has received $19 million seized from organized crime.

“We’re pleased to be investing this money in places that will enhance community safety (and) the safety of officers in the field in Winnipeg,” Justice Minister Cameron Friesen said.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Thursday, July 29, 2021 10:18 AM CDT: Corrects cost of robot dog to $257,000 from $28,000

Updated on Thursday, July 29, 2021 10:47 AM CDT: Clarifies graph on cost of "Spot" to note value in USD

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