It’s not just science fiction anymore.
Several nonviolent, real-life “RoboCops” are hitting the streets of New York City, as Mayor Eric Adams and the NYPD unveiled the latest technological upgrade for New York’s Finest.
The new devices — resembling, in many ways, the bots typically seen in sci-fi classics such as the 1987 action movie — are replete with new GPS gadgets, and include the return of a robot dog that the mayor said is “out of the pound” after being retired in 2021 due to outrage from advocates.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell announced the three new additions on April 11 in what she called a pilot program that includes large security robots that somewhat resemble Daleks from the popular British Television series Doctor Who; a robot dog that officials say will be instrumental in dealing with explosives; and a GPS gun that like a James Bond gadget is used to shoot a tracking device onto the back of a fleeing vehicle.
“To safeguard our modern city and a forward-looking world it is essential that our officers are equipped with the tools, training and technology necessary to do that job safely and effectively,” Sewell said. “The NYPD has always stepped forward. In every era, we have maximized public and officer safety through emerging technology. And that approach continues today.”
The large, wheeled robot is dubbed the K-5 autonomous security robot and is equipped with a camera. The technology is being leased by the NYPD and will be used inside areas, such as in transit as well as outdoors.
According to Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey, these machines are equipped with artificial intelligence to provide real time incident notifications to first responders. These robots are also being used on college campuses and shopping malls throughout the country, he added.
The second and perhaps most controversial piece of kit is the “Digidog,” a four-legged android that police say will be invaluable when dealing with hostage situations, bomb threats, or chemical spills.
The mechanical canine will not only be able to fit into places and withstand conditions humans cannot, NYPD officials also promised that it will keep victims, officers, and suspects safer during these situations.
Robot dogs were first spotted in 2021 under the DeBlasio administration but were quickly retired due to public outcry over what people, at the time, deemed unsettling and disturbing. While Commissioner Sewell pledged that the use of the dogs will be “transparent, consistent and always done in collaboration with the people that we serve,” Mayor Eric Adams was less delicate on the subject.
“The prior administration didn’t have a mayor that was a computer geek and that was willing to go where others are not willing to go to keep the city safe. I made it clear on the campaign trail, I am going to use technology with transparency to keep this city safe and others weren’t just willing to do that, and I am,” Adams said.
“We’re putting it right here in Times Square. We’re allowing people to come in and look at Digidog and K-five and others. And we’re gonna bring in community leaders and say, ‘Here’s the technology that we have, would you like this in your community,” the mayor added.
The third and final new addition to the force is named the StarChase system, which is a GPS tag that is launched from either a handheld cannon or from a launcher mounted on an NYPD car. With the help of a guided sight, the GPS is shot onto the back of a fleeing vehicle that will also allow cops to track suspects without putting the public in danger with high-speed chases.
Sewell pledged that each piece of tech will be operated by a skilled member of law enforcement.
“We know that technology is just a tool, and it is only as effective as the person or people using it. There was a human being behind and responsible for every mechanism that we use. That is our approach to any technological implementation, including the public safety tools being introduced today,” she said.
While police officials and Mayor Adams assure that these robotic additions to the police force will not be militant like RoboCop Alex Murphy, members of the New York Working Families party are admonishing the city for investing in what they call frivolous technology and not on community resources.
“The Adams administration continues to show that they are willing to write blank checks to the NYPD while cutting resources that would create true community safety. Instead of finally investing in schools, libraries, housing, child care, and other critical needs through the budget, Mayor Adams is calling for deeper cuts to city agencies that provide life-saving care and services,” Sochie Nnaemeka, director of the New York Working Families Party, said in a statement.
Updated with clarification about the nature of the police robots.