When the New York Police Department acquired a robotic dog last year, officials heralded the four-legged device as a futuristic tool that could go places that were too dangerous to send officers.
“This dog is going to save lives,” Inspector Frank Digiacomo of the department’s Technical Assistance Response Unit said in a television interview in December. “It’s going to protect people. It’s going to protect officers.”
Instead, the machine, which the police named Digidog, became a source of heated debate. After it was seen being deployed as part of the response to a home invasion in the Bronx in February, critics likened it to a dystopian surveillance drone. And when officers used it at a public-housing building in Manhattan this month, a backlash erupted again, with some people describing the device as emblematic of how overly aggressive the police can be when dealing with poor communities.
Now, the robotic dog’s days in the city have quietly been cut short.
In response to a subpoena from City Councilman Ben Kallos and Council Speaker Corey Johnson requesting records related to the device, police officials said a contract worth roughly $94,000 to lease the robotic dog from its maker, Boston Dynamics, had been terminated April 22.
John Miller, the Police Department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, confirmed late last month that the contract had been canceled and that the dog had been returned to Boston Dynamics or would be soon.
In an interview, Miller said that the lease had been scheduled to end in August and that the police had planned to test the robotic dog’s capabilities until then. The department changed its plans, he said, after the device became a “target” for people who he said had improperly used it to fuel arguments about race and surveillance.
“People had figured out the catchphrases and the language to somehow make this evil,” Miller said.
Kallos, a Democrat who represents the Upper East Side, took a different position, saying the device’s presence in New York underscored what he called the “militarization of the police.” He said the robotic dogs resembled those featured in the 2017 “Metalhead” episode of the television show “Black Mirror.”
“At a time where we should be having more beat cops on the street, building relationships with residents, they’re actually headed in another direction in trying to replace them with robots,” he said.