Honolulu, HI – Honolulu police have been using a robotic “dog” to screen for potential illness at temporary homeless shelters.
The robot, known as Spot, scans people’s eyes to make sure they don’t have fevers, the Associated Press reported.
The Honolulu Police Department (HPD) used approximately $150,000 in federal relief funds to purchase the robot, which it has been deployed at a government-operated tent city near the airport.
“We had numerous staff that had to go on quarantine, numerous officers, civilians, 14 days where they have to go out of work and wait to find out if they’re exposed,” HPD Community Outreach Unit Acting Lieutenant Joseph O’Neal told KHON in May.
“You can’t put a price on someone’s life or their families, so for me if there’s tech that can solve a problem and we can figure it out, I think that was a completely legitimate use of the funds for what we were doing,” Lt. O’Neal added.
Police have likened the technology to wheeled robots and drones, and say Spot is another tool they can use to help keep first responders safe, the Associated Press reported.
But critics have alleged law enforcement agencies are secretly purchasing such equipment without first establishing plans to ensure they aren’t used in dehumanizing, invasive, or aggressive ways, according to the news outlet.
“Because these people are houseless it’s considered OK to do that,” American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii’s legal director, Jongwook Kim, told the Associated Press. “At some point it will come out again for some different use after the pandemic is over.”
Kim said a perfect example of how robots could be used as lethal weapons occurred in 2016, when Dallas officers used a wheeled bomb robot loaded with explosives to end a terrorist attack.
“There’s the potential for these robots to increase the militarization of police departments and use it in ways that are unacceptable,” he asserted. “Maybe it’s not something we even want to let law enforcement have.”
Lt. O’Neal said Spot has been instrumental in helping scan body temperatures at a shelter where homeless people have opportunities to get COVID tests and to quarantine, the Associated Press reported.
“We have not had a single person out there that said, ‘That’s scary, that’s worrisome,’” Lt. O’Neal said. “We don’t just walk around and arbitrarily scan people.”
An estimated 500 Spot robots are currently in use around the world, the Associated Press reported.
Many are used by construction companies, factories, mines, or utility companies to help with various tasks.