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Who let the robo cop dogs out? N.Y.P.D. to unleash new technology

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | What’s next? C-3PO on patrol on horseback riding down Fifth Avenue?

A jumbo-sized R2-D2 “Star Wars”-like robot is set to start working the overnight beat in the Times Square subway station, the previously maligned “Digidog” is making a comeback for use in barricaded and hostage situations, and cops will soon be able to shoot GPS trackers onto fleeing vehicles in something that sounds right out of an Iron Man movie.

The New York Police Department on April 11 announced it will be deploying “three innovative policing technologies”: the StarChase GPS tag attachment system, the so-called Digidog mobile robot and the K5 Autonomous Security Robot.

The StarChase system operates by attaching a GPS tag by either a handheld or vehicle-mounted launcher onto a fleeing vehicle. The system then tracks the vehicle via a Web-based app, and provides real-time information about the vehicle’s location. The technology will allow officers to track a tagged vehicle remotely, avoiding a high-risk vehicle pursuit in the crowded streets of New York City. The use of the device is limited to allow officers to track the vehicle while remaining in proximity, and apprehend the perpetrator as soon as practicable. The device will not be used to determine where the vehicle was traveling over longer periods of time.

A StarChase GPS tag.

StarChase will only be operated by officers trained in its use. It will only be deployed when there is probable cause to believe that the vehicle was used in the commission of a crime, or probable cause to believe that an occupant of the vehicle has committed a crime, or in pressing circumstances. The New York Police Department pilot for use of the StarChase system is set to last 90 days.

Two dog robots are set to arrive over the next few months to the department’s Technical Assistance & Response Unit (TARU). The fully remote-controlled devices are designed to assess and assist the N.Y.P.D. in investigating high-risk, hazardous situations and locations. According to the N.Y.P.D., “They are tools that will undoubtedly save lives — both of the public and the police.”

A Digidog being tested by the Royal Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by SrA John Ennis)

Weighing 70 pounds and moving at a top speed of 3.5 miles per hour, the Digidog can traverse difficult terrain and, according to police, is “ideal for hostage negotiations, barricaded individuals, hazardous chemical/radiation zones and other dangerous incidents.”

The computerized canines will be remotely controlled only by trained TARU officers, and be deployed to assist the department’s Emergency Service Unit, the Hostage Negotiation Team, counterterrorism personnel and other units, as needed. The Digidog is capable of two-way audio communication, and can be equipped with radiation detectors, gas meters and thermal sensors. The two “dogs” were purchased with funds from asset forfeiture.

The N.Y.P.D. expects to begin unleashing the robo dogs this summer. According to police, “Under the N.Y.P.D.’s protocols, officers will never outfit a robot to carry a weapon and will never use one for surveillance of any kind.”

In addition, a K5 Autonomous Security Robot (ASR) will be used to provide additional camera coverage of confined public areas, such as transit facilities. According to the N.Y.P.D., the K5 ASR has been used around the country by law enforcement agencies, college campuses, corporations, shopping malls and more to provide security and deter crime. The device is leased from the manufacturer, and the N.Y.P.D.’s pilot program is set to begin this summer and last roughly seven months.

A K5 ASR on patrol in Texas. (Knightscope)

Initial deployment of the K5 ASR will be inside the Times Square subway station from midnight to 8 a.m. During that initial deployment the K5 ASR will have a human “partner” — a TARU officer who will monitor its use and be able to answer questions from the public.

The K5 ASR uses self-driving technology with onboard cameras and sensors that enable it to travel a predetermined path set by the operator. According to the N.Y.P.D., “The device provides real-time situational awareness and actionable intelligence to first responders, and also provides a physical deterrence to crime.”

Resembling a giant vacuum cleaner, at 400 pounds, more than 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide — though with a top speed of only 3 miles per hour — the K5 ASR will definitely be a noticeable presence.

But straphangers reportedly don’t have to worry worry about the slow-rolling, wide-body Weeble ramming into them, since “the K5 ASR detects objects in its path, such as people, and will stop moving until the path is clear.” The self-charging device can also be equipped with heat sensors, thermal detection, and the capability to broadcast preset audio messages. (There was no word on whether the unit can busk.) The K5 ASR also includes a security call button, which when activated will connect the user to a live person who can provide assistance and/or direction.

Like R2-D2, K5 ASR is unarmed. An N.Y.P.D. press release does not mention it having any weapons. You can’t hide from K5 ASR, though. According to its Web site, the gadget’s four cameras provide 360-degree video streaming.

The product’s sales slogan — “Experience peace through technology” — sounds like something right out of the 1980s movie “RoboCop.”

“Throughout its history, the N.Y.P.D. has leveraged the latest available technology and pioneered ways to do our critical work safely and effectively,” N.Y.P.D. Commissioner Keechant Sewell said. “In every era, we have maximized public and officer safety through emerging technology — and that approach continues today. It is time, again, for the N.Y.P.D. to adapt, to improve and to continue exceeding public safety expectations. But we want to be clear: The implementation of these technologies will be transparent, consistent and always done in close collaboration with the people we serve. Our job is to fight crime and keep people safe, and these tools are significant steps forward in that vital mission.”

One Comment

  1. lynn pacifico lynn pacifico April 15, 2023

    Very slippery slope.

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