Robot Dog Cops in Hawaii?

Picture of Spot Explorer Robot

By: T. Jeffersonian         

The first Honolulu City Council meeting in January 2021 included a discussion on recent purchases made by the Honolulu Police Department (HPD).  One of HDP’s purchases was a robotic dog with a six-figure price tag.  HPD has purchased the Boston Dynamics built Spot Explorer Robot costing $150,000 dollars.  Spot looks like a robot dog.  It is an agile mobile, four-legged robot that navigates terrain with unprecedented mobility, allowing an operator to automate routine inspection tasks and data capture safely, accurately, and frequently.  The robot moves at 3 mph and can carry a 30-pound load. Its handheld control console makes it very similar to operating a video game controller or flying a drone. The robot comes with a program repeatable autonomous missions that help it to gather consistent data to memorize its operating location. After short durations, Spot is able to navigate the sites entirely on its own. 

An HPD spokesperson described Spot’s purchase as having been made with CARES Act money.  The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, is a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by the 116th U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27, 2020.  HPD was allotted $43 million from Honolulu’s portion of the CARES Act and from its allocation, HPD used $150,000 to purchase Spot.  

            Boston Dynamics describes several of Spot’s uses including the ability to inspect construction projects in progress.  In 2020, commercial construction company Swinerton used Spot’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology in the construction of Honolulu’s affordable housing project Queen Emma Apartments.  Swinerton attached a laser scanner and a 360-degree camera to the robot. The hardware itself takes precise measurements and snaps two photos a second. Swinerton said that Spot’s data helped catch a discrepancy with Queen Emma’s columns and saved the company precious time and money. 

Spot also has enormous functionality with public safety departments as it can provide visuals to officers during dangerous situations.  The robot has pandemic related applications too.  Spot can conduct touchless temperature checks and telemedicine appointments and it can also deliver medical supplies and food without human-to-human contact.  Its thermal imaging capability means it can scan a large area for elevations in body temperatures. HPD currently employs Spot at the POST (Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage) site at Keehi Lagoon.  After POST is closed, the robot will be used for the HONU (Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons) program at locations across Oahu. 

             In a remarkably short period of time, Spot is becoming even more capable In February 2021, Boston Dynamics announced an increase in Spot’s self-sufficiency when the company unveiled Spot Enterprise, a new version of the robot that features a charging stand to top off its batteries without any required human interaction.  While the current Spot Explorer has around 90 minutes of battery life, the new Spot Enterprise can live on a remote site with a charging station indefinitely. Boston Dynamics also announced Scout – a new browser-based control system that offers a streamlined interface for piloting Spot over the internet – as well as a new robotic arm to help the robot grasp, lift, carry, place, and drag a wide variety of objects.  The new arm does not yet work with its web-based software, making Spot still better suited for inspecting and photographing an environment rather than physically interacting with it.  Once Spot’s robotic arm is fully integrated through Scout, however, the robot should be able to do such things like operate valves, pull levers, or turn handles, while its operator sits hundreds or even thousands of miles away.  With such continued improvements, businesses and first responders will eventually use Spot as an alternative to dispatching personnel to remote sites or will be able to station Spot indefinitely in those areas requiring constant presence.  

             HPD is applauded for demonstrating such innovative forward thinking.  Man-machine teaming is truly the next revolution in industrial, agricultural, and security affairs.  As we diversify and install resiliency in Hawaii’s post-pandemic society and economy, the entire state must embrace the enormous possibilities that Spot and similar robots afford us on land, sea, undersea, air, and space.  In this process, we should not be remotely worried about losing human jobs to robots, but rather see the endless job creation possibilities that robots manufacturing and operations quickly open up for the state.