Honolulu police used a robot dog to police a homeless plague camp


How much the Honolulu Police Department spent on one of Boston Dynamics' four-legged "Spot" robots.

Honolulu Civil Beat

Harry Murphy/Sportsfile/Getty Images

Law enforcement agencies are just loving spending tax dollars on Boston Dynamics’ horrifying robo-dog, Spot, to test out in increasingly tasteless, abjectly dystopian scenarios. Recently, the NYPD proudly trotted out its own $94,000 quadrupedal dog-bot for street patrols, only to terminate its contract with Spot’s makers barely two months later following New Yorkers’ collective “Fuck this shit” response.

Now, renewed inquiries are detailing somehow even more horrifying usages — Honolulu police employed their own $150,045 federally funded Spot to “take body temperatures, disinfect, and patrol the city’s homeless quarantine encampment” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Costly thermometer — “As for its use helping Honolulu combat COVID-19, the city’s spending data says Spot was purchased to take people’s temperatures at HPD’s tent city for homeless people,” reported the Honolulu Civil Beat back in January, “In other words, its ostensible use is as a thermometer, according to the city’s spending justification, though HPD says it can do more.”

“The only question the city council asked of HPD [during a January hearing] was whether the robot could be used to crack down on Honolulu’s fireworks problem,” added Motherboard in an update earlier today.

It’s currently unclear if the HPD is still using its Spot to get to the bottom of the city’s bottle rocket scourge... or if it’s still terrifying a likely already unnerved homeless population during the (hopefully) waning months of a deadly, once-in-a-generation pandemic. Motherboard reached out to HPD with a public records request on its usage of their toy, and we’ve done the same for the Massachusetts State Police, who have been playing around with their own Boston Dynamics product for a couple years now. We live in wondrous times.

Drones, robots, and Rings, oh my — As unsettling an image of a robot dog patrolling COVID-19 ravaged homeless encampments is it’s far from the only story of police increasingly leaning into terrifying technological progress. Between Ring’s vague, creepy cooperation with law enforcement, seized drug money-financed drones in Chicago, and multiple instances of facial recognition tech reliance, it’s been difficult to keep track of which police department is the most unnerving in any given week.

Thankfully, there’s been some decent public pushback on these encroachments on citizens’ basic rights, but we obviously still have quite a ways to go before we start feeling safe around cops. Y’know... that feeling they’re supposed to inspire in law-abiding citizens at all times.