Since the moment Boston Dynamics first introduced its headless robotic quadruped, Spot, to the public years ago, concerns over its potential police and military applications have been growing.
Surprising no one, we've already seen it play "cop" on more than one occasion.
Following the latest viral moment, in which the NYPD used a Spot robot dubbed "Digidog" to respond to a reported home invasion situation in the Bronx, rightfully wary Twitter users started circulating some tips to thwart the robo-K9, should a person ever be targeted by one.
The most widely shared of these tips, posted by Twitter user @LenKusov, reveals how to disable it in a pinch: wrench the battery-release lever on its underbelly. The thread also discusses ways to take it down via booby traps and ballistics.
There's a lot of legitimate and potentially useful information in the mix — it's largely taken directly from the Boston Dynamics-issued user manual, which is worth getting acquainted with.
But the gravity of the suggestions is lost in thousands of retweets and likes, many by enthusiastic citizens now raring to go fuck up the first Digidog they see.
Before you go and take your rage from the keyboard to the streets, though, it's worth doing a hard reconsider about your level of comfortability when it comes to interacting with cops. While it's new territory for both the public and the police, the essentials are unchanged; sure it's a shiny new toy, but it's a cop's toy like any other.
That being said, there are precautions a person can take to be less vulnerable to encroaching police technology (note: security robots already have a messy track record).
For starters? Keep Digidog the hell away from you.
Be its duty robocop or social distancing enforcer or art installation, the Spot robot isn't designed to be up close and personal with casual passersby. Give it a wide berth wherever you encounter it just to be safe.
In addition to maintaining a distance of two meters (or a bit under seven feet), Boston Dynamics recommends you never position yourself behind it on stairs or an incline.
It could fall on you and that would be... very bad.
Spot can come equipped with an array of cameras to enhance its senses. The different builds are:
- Spot CAM, which adds a color panoramic view
- Spot CAM+, offering pan-tilt-zoom "to enable detailed inspections"
- Spot CAM+IR, adding thermal imaging
A Spot robot also boasts a suite of sensors including LIDAR, which allows it to navigate its environment with precision whether or not a human controller is around. These types of sensors, though, are known to get tripped up by reflective surfaces like mirrors.
Boston Dynamics admits that "transparent, mirrored, or very bright obstacles" can "confuse Spot’s obstacle detection system."
If only mirrors and reflective garments were widely available items...
To Spot's credit, most of its applications are innocuous and in some cases, genuinely helpful. The bots provided assistance to healthcare workers last spring during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and the company has long touted Spot's potential use in search-and-rescue efforts following disasters.
Boston Dynamics also fired off a statement to "condemn the portrayal of [its] technology in any way that promotes violence, harm, or intimidation" after Brooklyn artist collective MSCHF armed a Spot robot with a paintball gun for an exhibit. Cue sympathy.
If only it weren't for those darned military contracts. 🙈