State police already using Boston Dynamics robots in real-world situations


Over the years, Boston Dynamics has made headlines numerous times. The engineering and research group is known for developing robots with unique “talents” that end up in viral videos. Now, one of its most popular pet projects is getting experience in the real world.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts State Police have been testing Boston Dynamics’ “Spot” robot since at least April 2019. Spot has already been used in two incidents, although specific details around the “how” are unknown.

It is still unclear how much autonomy the robots have at this point. Though, many are optimistic around the implications for law enforcement going forward. 

Spot Finally Seeing Real-world Action

Boston Dynamics first introduced Spot in 2016. The dog-inspired machine was initially called SpotMini and garnered national attention for its ability to open doors. The latest model can climb stairs, traverse rough terrain, and run for an hour and a half. It can also carry just over 30 pounds and operate in temperatures ranging from below zero to over 110 degrees Fahrenheit. 

As of last month, Spot is now available for businesses to lease, making it Boston Dynamics’ first commercially available robot. On its website, Boston Dynamics highlights Spot’s value across a variety of sectors, including construction, oil and gas, as well as entertainment. 

Recent footage confirms that Spot is being tested in the law enforcement field. A Massachusetts State Police video shows one Spot robot opening a door and positioning itself to walk into a home with another Spot robot. 

According to reports, Spot does not carry weapons. Instead, documents filed by Lt. Robert G. Schumaker suggest the police force sees value in using robots in tactical operations to keep police officers out of harm’s way.

Another Win for Boston Dynamics, Public Remains Hesitant

Spot’s impressive suite of features and capabilities is another achievement in a long list for Boston Dynamics. The MIT spin-off continues to shock the world with its autonomous robots and lab videos.

Going back to 2004, Boston Dynamics first made the spotlight with its Big Dog machine. Fast forward fifteen years and the group’s robots are now performing parkour and gymnastics. The humanoid Atlas machine can do handstands, front rolls, jump splits, and more. It’s incredible.

Unfortunately, reactions to Boston Dynamics’ creations aren’t always positive. Many headlines and articles characterize the robots as “terrifying” or “scary” because they appear to bring us one step closer to a Terminator-like reality.

CEO Marc Raibert finds these labels unfair. “It’s true that some aspects of our robots look like people and there’s [sic] some people who do bad things,” said Raibert. “But looking like a person means you have arms, you have legs, you can walk. It doesn’t mean that you have emotions and a personality and an ego—basically, all the things that motivate malicious action in humans.”