back to article NYPD puts down $94k robot canine contract after outcry

The New York Police Department has ended its $94,000 contract testing a robot canine named Digidog and is returning it to its makers, Boston Dynamics, after facing harsh criticism from residents and top politicians. “The contract has been terminated and the dog will be returned,” the NYPD told The Register, declining to …

  1. oiseau Silver badge
    WTF?

    Quite obviously

    “For now, this is a casualty of politics, bad information, and cheap sound bytes,"

    Yes?

    Well ...

    From here it looks like, for now, New Yorkers are the casualty of politics, bad information and a deputy commissioner (for intelligence and counterterrorism at that) who is quite obviously a certified asshole.

    O.

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      Re: Quite obviously

      “For now, this is a casualty of politics, bad information, and cheap sound bytes,"

      Cheap sound bytes indeed. It may not be a dog but it certainly comes with a dog whistle.

  2. JassMan Silver badge
    Coat

    Until they give it a better audio transducer

    Its bark will always be worse than its byte.

    Mines the one with a pocket full of kitty treats.

  3. G Mac
    WTF?

    It is not a dog

    “The contract has been terminated and the dog will be returned,” the NYPD told The Register, declining to elaborate.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: It is not a dog

      Didn't they mean "The contract has been curtailed"?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: It is not a dog

        It's just a shaggy dog story.

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: It is not a dog

      If it can't lick it's own balls (other parts are available), it ain't a dog.

      1. TimMaher Silver badge
        Coat

        Man walks into a pub.

        Sees a bloke at the bar with his dog sitting beside him, licking it’s balls.

        “I wish I could do that” he remarks.

        “Offer him a biscuit and he might let you.”

        I’ll get my coat.

  4. pip25
    FAIL

    Take a look at the damn thing

    Comparing it to a dog only makes it look worse, or should I say, more of a seemingly headless monstrosity. I've been following Boston Dynamics' research during the past years, and they barely put any stickers on this one compared to the test versions. How was this supposed to engender trust in the technology?

    Dear robot boffins: it's not enough that your creation works. You also need to expend effort to make it look friendly, not something manufactured by Skynet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Take a look at the damn thing

      What does looks have to do with anything?

      It's the potential application that counts. This thing is no more than a Manhack.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
        Terminator

        Re: Take a look at the damn thing

        Nah, the problem is that it can't leap up at you, put its paws on your shoulders, and try to lick your face.

        Not without crushing you to the ground under its weight... the lack of a licking device is a mere oversight.

        And has anyone seen one try to chase a ball, or catch a frisbee? I think not.

        1. JassMan Silver badge

          Re: Take a look at the damn thing

          "Nah, the problem is that it can't leap up at you, put its paws on your shoulders, and try to lick your face.

          Not without crushing you to the ground under its weight... the lack of a licking device is a mere oversight."

          I've known some Great Danes like that. Ok they had a licking device but that only made it worse. There is nothing more objectionable about an overfriendly canine than being pushed over AND slobbered on. Unless maybe they had been rolling in a field of cowshit first.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Take a look at the damn thing

            Jassman>>> I've known some Great Danes like that.

            Brigitte Nielsen?

          2. TimMaher Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: Cowshit

            Try fox shit.

            That is really nasty.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Cowshit

              Human is the worst.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well they really should have use this as community outreach than crime fighting!

    These robots would have been great as community outreach tool rather than crime fighting tools. Because the police already have wheeled robots that does everything these can do, except not with the cool factor. And this comes comes from someone who grew up in NYC.

    1. tip pc Silver badge

      Re: Well they really should have use this as community outreach than crime fighting!

      That’s all part of the lessons learned.

      Slowly introduce the technology in ways that gains the communities trust then slowly increase the features to the point it can replace a proper cop and be oppressive to that community.

      Boston dynamics need to watch that documentary “Robocop” and see how they gained the communities trust.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Well they really should have use this as community outreach than crime fighting!

        Roboplod would describe this better, slow moving and requiring a cop with a controller, it is hardly a sneaky surveillance device.

        It's only advantage over the more traditional robots in police use that I can see is the ability to climb stairs, slowly.

        While does look like a waste of money, the arguments against it seem to be the usual emotional responses rather than the fact that it is expensive and not really any better in function than simpler cheaper machines.

        Sooner or later new, improved versions of this will be what every police commissioner will want, complete with wall climbing, door breaching and minigun carrying capabilities and a Judge badge.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Well they really should have use this as community outreach than crime fighting!

          "While does look like a waste of money, the arguments against it seem to be the usual emotional responses rather than the fact that it is expensive and not really any better in function than simpler cheaper machines." a real dog.

          FTFY

  6. LDS Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Next time they have someone shooting in a school or supermarket...

    ... send in some children with a smartphone to report where the mad man with rifles is. Why using a real dog is OK, otherwise? A machine with a camera on top that is not stopped by a stair is really too terrifying. A shop or fair full of military guns is not, not having 300M guns around. Here now we say that the American Dream became to survive shopping or a lesson at school...

    And of course that's government surveillance, right, Alexa?

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Next time they have someone shooting in a school or supermarket...

      Cute or not, the Boston Dynamics dog thing may be able to climb stairs but nimble it ain't.

      If you sent one to spy on a loony gunman it would only need one bullet to cost the city and its taxpayers all those thousands of dollars.

      A reasonable drone would be a much better bet, harder to shoot and cheap enough to deploy a few at a time.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Next time they have someone shooting in a school or supermarket...

        So why they use real dogs instead of drones? Drones are autonomous, enough, they need someone to drive them and they need not to lose signal. Also I don't know how much noise this robots does, but a drone is noisy. Moreover is they need to dispatch something in a dangerous area (i.e. a first aid bag to an injured person) this could carry a heavier load than a drone.

        1. martinusher Silver badge

          Re: Next time they have someone shooting in a school or supermarket...

          >So why do they use real dogs instead of drones?

          We've just experienced a visit from our daughter, her husband and their two dogs. One of those dogs is a very friendly Belgian Malinois / Alsatian (German Shepherd) mix. My right arm and hand have more or less recovered from when I was holding her collar 'for a moment' and she decided she wanted to be somewhere else.

          This dog breed is used by police forces and the military. It is unbelievalby powerful. This one is friendly. I don't want to imagine what being on the receiving end of one that's unfriendly would be like. I think I'd rather take my chances with a Boston Dynamics machine -- it might be big and mechanical but it doesn't have powerful jaws to clamp around my arm or leg. (I also suspect that the digidog is like a V1 -- if you can turn it over then it will have problems getting up.)

      2. Jon 37 Silver badge

        Re: Next time they have someone shooting in a school or supermarket...

        In a real school shooting, the robot is expendable. If it can safely find the gunman, then it gets destroyed, then I'm OK with that.

        Treating a single bullet wound (that is non-fatal or just not immediately fatal) in the US medical system probably costs more than the robot.

        There are probably more cost-effective solutions. Though the "digidog" can push through heavy swing doors, and with the optional robot arm it can even open doorhandles, which other drones can't.

        1. mark l 2 Silver badge

          Re: Next time they have someone shooting in a school or supermarket...

          The fact that you mention it can be used to go into 'school shooting' just goes to show how deeply flawed the gun culture is in the states.

          While other countries have had shootings in schools (including the UK) It usually goes on to change the law of the country to restrict access to guns or reduce the risk of it happening again.

          Where as in the US they have had several school shootings going back decades, Yet it has barely changed the laws. Instead it has people believing that robot dogs and arming teachers is an alternative solution to proper gun control.

      3. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Terminator

        Re: Next time they have someone shooting in a school or supermarket...

        I'm thinking more like ED 209

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Next time they have someone shooting in a school or supermarket...

        A drone cannot open a door handle (*) while somebody is really(**) trying to stop it with a hockey stick. "Watch a Human Try to Fight Off That Door-Opening Robot Dog", Wired.

        (*) But it looks like NYPD digidog didn't come with the extendable mouth/hand as a standard feature.

        (**) Well, er ...., kind of trying.

    2. sreynolds

      Re: Next time they have someone shooting in a school or supermarket...

      Just wait a day. Given there are on average at least three a week you won't have to wait long.

  7. ThatOne Silver badge
    Devil

    "I'll be back"

    > it could return in the future during a less contentious time

    Meaning, just create the right nasty situation, tell everybody that this robot is the only solution, and they will all cheer in the streets...

    Basic marketing: Always make hard-to-prove but enticing promises (check the cosmetics industry for some brilliant examples).

    1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

      Re: "I'll be back"

      Basic marketing: Always make hard-to-prove but enticing promises

      ... or brexit.

    2. chivo243 Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: "I'll be back"

      I was thinking along the same lines... Where is marketing on this one? Why did they make it look like Doginator after an acid bath? Surely a Muffet look-a-like would have done better. Ruff-ruff, whizz-whizz, ruff. Even a Teddy Ruxpin clone would have gone down better.

    3. LDS Silver badge

      "Basic marketing"

      Make it look cute, i.e. dalmatians paint instead of orange, give him a funny head, make it play some funny dog trick, give him a tail to swag, and people will cheer around with children wanting one....

  8. ST Silver badge
    Devil

    Speaking as a New Yorker ...

    They should have rented the pussy.

    As in Meeeow!

    Just sayin'.

  9. bpfh
    Joke

    Lassie?

    Or LaCie?

  10. iron Silver badge

    > “People had figured out the catchphrases and the language to somehow make [the technology] evil,”

    Technology is not inherently evil and catchphrases do not make it so. It's pople like you deputy commissioner Miller and how you use technology that makes it evil.

    1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Sit! Speak! Bite!

      > “People had figured out the catchphrases and the language to somehow make [the technology] evil,”

      I read that as the dog responds to voice commands and the citizens of New York figured out how to control it.

      The "marketing" angle is interesting. Boston Dynamics first markets it to the police because if they don't buy it, it doesn't matter what the public thinks. It's clear the police want this for all the wrong reasons, thus the paint job, etc. It could look like Kermit the Frog or Miss Piggy and still do its job, but no self-respecting police officer would take *that* on patrol, just as they would not carry a purse or handbag for their spare ammunition. The police like to be intimidating, the public don't like to be intimidated, back to the drawing board for Boston Dynamics to figure that one out.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: Sit! Speak! Bite!

        >I read that as the dog responds to voice commands and the citizens of New York figured out how to control it.

        Police dogs in our part of the US are trained to respond to commands in German, not English. Boston Dynamics needs to do a bit of reprogramming.

  11. DS999 Silver badge

    The problem was the secrecy

    Had the NYPD talked about this up front, had some sort of a public introduction where it said "we are doing this because x and it will be used in situations y" maybe they could have got some of the public behind. Rolling it out in secret and having it just show up one day was the worst possible way they could have handled it. It made it look like more of the over militarization of police / toys for cops programs, and a waste of taxpayer dollars with no discernible improvement in policing for those dollars.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: The problem was the secrecy

      I suspect that the Digidog was just a test, the Digipig is probably next - we have cars driving around run by computers so what's next? Digicongressmen?

  12. martinusher Silver badge

    Irrational, as usual

    I would fear a Boston Dynamics robot a lot less than a real police dog. This robot might look the part but its lacking agility, speed and teeth attached to very powerful jaws. The real dog also has better sensors -- it will follow me by my scent and even a mediocre dog is really, really, good at it.

    Robots are fun but they've still got a way to go before they're capable of doing anything other than mechanically following their programming.

    1. SloppyJesse

      Re: Irrational, as usual

      "This robot might look the part but its lacking agility, speed and teeth attached to very powerful jaws."...

      After being cornered by Digidog, martinusher reportedly shouted "you're not even a real dog" before shoving past it and escaping.

      A police spokesman said if only Digidog was equipped with some form of grappling apparatus the megalomaniac intent on world domination would have been apprehended.

      Boston Dynamics has announced Digidog V2.0...

      And 94K? Are the sales team at Boston Dynamics readers of Private Eye?

    2. onemark03 Bronze badge

      Robots still [have] a way to go ...

      As long as they don't become sentient.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “The contract has been terminated and the dog will be returned,”

    shurely shome mishtake? More like, “The contract has been returned and the dog will be terminated,” ?

  14. hittitezombie

    One positive, if they shoot the robodog no real dogs will be harmed. Cannot say the same about anyone in the house they raid.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Price..

    Seems quite cheap if it could replace a person.

  16. Tempest
    FAIL

    Damn. Just After Tests as How to Foil Piggie's Dog, They Lock it up!

    A few groups have been experimenting a how to cripple the mechanical dog, from lassoing legs together to blinding it with lasers.

    Still, some of the work can be used to cripple Microsoft's Police IoT system. It's as evil as the Boston dog. Technical 'advances' might sound good, but they also become more susceptible to interuption.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Damn. Just After Tests as How to Foil Piggie's Dog, They Lock it up!

      Tying legs together or blinding with lasers works with fleshy creatures too, so I'm not sure what "experimenting" they are doing.

      Overall, I'm a bit astounded at the response of people here. It is relatively cheap, less of a risk in terms of harm (either to suspect or police operative*), and looks the part. As others have said, I'd rather have this coming to get me than a real police dog (or officer).

      * including real dogs

      1. My-Handle Silver badge

        Re: Damn. Just After Tests as How to Foil Piggie's Dog, They Lock it up!

        Same here. I mean, yes I'd be annoyed if I found a robot dog wandering around my house with a camera. But probably a lot less annoyed than I'd be if I found a person wandering around my house with a camera (even forgoing the fact that police 'wandering around my house' would likely be armed).

        I don't know about the specific unit concerned, but other Spot units had handles so that they can be picked up and moved (though they're supposed to be off when you do so). They're built to have easily replaced battery packs. Even if the sod was being awkward, it's not going to be all that difficult to drag the damn thing out of my house and find whatever joker was controlling it for a short, rather irate chat.

        Unless the robot itself is armed (and to the best of my knowledge, Boston Dynamics actually threatened to sue the one company who tried to arm one of their units, as well as demanding the unit back), it presents an excessively minor danger.

        1. Francis Boyle

          Re: Damn. Just After Tests as How to Foil Piggie's Dog, They Lock it up!

          Thirded. I much rather have one of these in my home than a jittery cop with a gun. Of course you could reduce the jitter by reducing the chance that the cop is going to be confronted by an equally jittery person with a gun, but we all know that that's not going to happen in the US any time soon.

  17. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    Not long now and there’ll be a space habitat called elysium

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