'Creepy' NYPD robotic dog returned to creators after viral outrage

'Creepy' NYPD robotic dog returned to creators after viral outrage
Photo credit: Getty Images

A "creepy" robotic dog once hailed as a high-tech crime-fighting sidekick by police in the United States has been "put down" and sent back to its creators.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) ended its US$94,000 (NZ$131,239) contract with the robot's maker Boston Dynamics after it received backlash over police militarisation and abuses of force.

'Spot' the robot dog was introduced to the public in December after the department acquired the device in a test programme. The purpose of the robot was to help officers better identify dangers at crime scenes by climbing stairs and surveying hazardous areas.

However, critics see the dog as emblematic of how overly aggressive police officers could be when dealing with poorer communities.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is "glad the Digidog was put down", a spokesperson for him told ABC7.

"It's creepy, alienating, and sends the wrong message to New Yorkers."

Some people likened the machines to the robotic dog featured in the dystopian science fiction TV series Black Mirror. The show's creators even drew inspiration from Boston Robotics videos to help depict a military state in the 2017 episode 'Metalhead'.

In February, a viral video of the robot in action - which was seen patrolling a Bronx neighbourhood after police responded to a hostage situation - sparked controversy.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called it a "robotic surveillance ground drone" and praised activists who fought against the tech to demand that police funds instead go towards investments like school counselling.

"Please ask yourself: when was the last time you saw next-generation, world-class technology for education, healthcare, housing, etc consistently prioritized for underserved communities like this?" she tweeted.

John Miller, NYPD's deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, defended the department's use of the robot, saying it keeps officers out of harm's way and it is cheaper and more advanced than robots police have used in the past.

He told the New York Times the lease for the robot was scheduled to end this August, but these plans changed after the machine became a "target" in arguments over race and surveillance.

"People had figured out the catchphrases and the language to somehow make this evil," he said.

Although the NYPD is no longer using the robot, officers in Massachusetts and Hawaii are still testing the device.