The rapid advances made in artificial intelligence and machine learning have paved a path toward a more accessible, efficient, and optimized future. However, best practices and ideal applications are still undecided. Recently, robotic “dogs” — that is, quadruped robots capable of independent motion and various functions — have become a hot topic. We have seen their deployment in places like New York City and Singapore for different purposes and with varying levels of success.
When looking to the future of AI and robotics, considering the potential for applications of robot canines requires some inquiry into their potential functions and roles, the reasons why some projects have abandoned them, and how the industry is projected to develop in the coming years.
Functions and Roles of Robot Canines
Robots have often taken on the form of living creatures, from bees to bats, and building robots in the vague shape of a dog is a logical progression of this pattern. As programmers and engineers tend to recognize the value of organic development and structure, modeling robots after living animals that can independently move, problem-solve, and survive sets them up for success. And one of the primary reasons for a robot canine — ease of navigation and resilience.
The development of robot canines is multi-faceted as these inventions can serve different purposes depending on their deployment. One of the main benefits to these creations is their movement capabilities; regardless of individual models’ developers, robot canines are generally considered agile and intelligent with advanced motion control, environmental perception, and other smart tech features.
Advanced dexterity, obstacle detection and avoidance, difficult terrain mobility, map construction, and more make these robot canines suitable for challenging fields that put human workers at risk. Police departments have begun to consider and trial these robots in the field to keep officers safe on the job, and other potential applications could involve hazardous environments like mines, construction or demolition sites, or exploration.
A park in Singapore took advantage of this technology to safely enforce social distancing recommendations and monitor crowd density. A robot canine equipped with a camera and loudspeaker was able to effectively patrol the area without putting human patrons or officers at risk during the pandemic; while this application may not have been imagined during the robot’s conception and development, its smart capabilities enabled officials in Singapore to safely promote social distancing practices and monitor the park’s capacity without putting any human workers at risk.
Why This Technology Has Been Abandoned By Certain Institutions
In December 2020, the NYPD introduced Spot the “Digidog,” a product of Boston Dynamics. The robot canine was intended to support policing efforts by protecting police officers and civilians through hazard detection and navigation. The integration of a robot canine in the New York City police force was met with controversy and backlash; the most outspoken critics expressed concerns that the robot would be used for ground-level surveillance or even militaristic deployment. Spot, however, was unarmed and prohibited by its creators to be used as a weapon. Ultimately, the robot was removed from service amid concerns regarding police budget usage and conversations regarding the potential of excessive force. Other police departments, such as those in Hawaii and Massachusetts, continue to test similar robots.
Fear of surveillance-equipped and weaponized robots are not unfounded, as police forces have utilized similar technology in the past, such as the bomb-robot used in Dallas to apprehend an active sniper, so addressing these concerns could be effective in encouraging a more positive response to the adoption of robots in police work.
What the Future Holds for These Robots
While there is still criticism of robot canines, the possibility for productive and positive applications remains; integrating them into more hazardous fields could make dangerous work much safer and feasible for a human workforce over time. However, the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the NYPD’s adoption of Spot suggests that there is still room to improve.
The robot’s design has been ill-received among the public due to the way it moves and the features it lacks; though relatively small in stature, the Digidog moves in an authoritative and commanding way, making passerby uneasy. Additionally, because it lacks familiar features (in the way that a dog’s face is familiar to us) and the capacity to express emotion or non-threatening sentiments, civilians have been uncomfortable in the robot’s presence. Robot canines are designed primarily for function, aiding in agility and intellectual ability, but addressing the design criticisms may make more people receptive to their broad integration.
In addition to the design, timing and context are imperative to a well-received adoption of robot canines. Consideration for how robot canines are used and presented to the public, as well as when industries invest in them, can aid in the initiative to adopt these useful robots, especially if their presence will continue to appear in police departments.
At this time, the ultimate future of robot canines seems uncertain, as the public reception has been largely negative and resulted in hesitation to try again. However, what remains true is that the functional potential of robot canines is remarkably promising, especially in hazardous industries. Robot canines have immense potential; finding ways to integrate this technology into the areas that need it the most will likely present unprecedented benefits to human safety and productivity.
In order to make the most of this technology and its advanced capabilities regarding navigation and safety, engineers may need to reconsider the physical design features of the robot and appeal to the public through demonstrations of what the robot canine can do. By displaying how useful robot canines could be when human lives are otherwise at risk, inventors and engineers can help curb the controversy and allow these advanced robots to fulfill essential duties in various industries to keep human workers safe.