Robot dogs could patrol the US-Mexico border | APCNN

The photos look like a sci-fi scene: robot dogs patrolling the US-Mexico border, scaling rough terrain in search of threats and contraband. But these images are real.

The Department of Homeland Security recently released them revealing details about how it is testing the technology. Officials hailed the robots’ potential as a “force multiplier” that could enhance the safety of Border Patrol agents by reducing their exposure to life-threatening hazards.

A robot dog scans a desert landscape with its camera and sensor while on guard duty in this photo provided by the Department of Homeland Security.

An article praising the tests on the website of the Directorate of Science and Technology of the DHS notes that one day the dogs, officially known as automated ground surveillance vehicles, could one day become “a CBP agent or an officer’s best friend.”

“Don’t be surprised,” he says, “if in the future we see the ‘Fido’ robot in the field, walking side-by-side with CBP personnel.”

But the details of the tests seemed to surprise some people, sparking an outpouring of backlash on social media comparing the footage to dystopian scenes from sci-fi shows like ‘Black Mirror’.

“It really felt like a slap in the face,” says Vicki Gaubeca, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, an umbrella group that denounces the initiative as an “alarming and outrageous” waste of taxpayers’ money that would be better spent developing systems to hold Border Patrol agents accountable.

Gaubeca describes herself as a lover of technology and dogs (she has five). But she says she doesn’t see anything cute in the government’s recent depictions of robot dogs lending a “helping paw.” For years, his organization has warned that militarization along the border puts communities and migrants at risk. And this, she says, is just the latest troubling example.

“There are other technologies that they are already using that we think they should reduce, and yet they are adding another type of surveillance technology that is scary, to be honest,” Gaubeca says. “It certainly seems like something that’s built for something very aggressive, like theaters of war, rather than in a community.”

Ghost Robotics, the Philadelphia-based company that makes the robots tested by DHS teams, says there’s nothing to worry about.

“We are focused on doing the right thing. We want to do the right thing for national security and for the country,” CEO Jiren Parikh said.

A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said the project was still in the research and development phase, with no timeline for deploying the dogs.

In the meantime, there are a lot of serious issues that this technology brings to the surface.

There is a difference between science fiction and reality

Sometimes cute and sometimes scary, robot dogs have captured the imagination of Americans for decades, long before videos of Boston Dynamics four-legged robots dance at Motown and BTS started going viral.

They have been symbols of futuristic innovation – and harbingers of what could happen if technology fell into the wrong hands.

In 1940, Westinghouse displayed a 60 pound foil skinned dog at the Universal Exhibition named Sparko which could walk, bark and sit. In the 1960s, the Jetsons’ futuristic cartoon family briefly adopted a nuclear-powered electronic dog, Lectronimobefore deciding to give it to the police department.

Menacing mechanical dogs tracked fugitives in Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451.” In 2017, an episode of “Black Mirror” featured terrifying robot watchdogs who hunt and kill people.

But Parikh, CEO of Ghost Robotics, says there’s a big gap between how robot dogs are portrayed in science fiction — and sometimes skewered on social media — and the reality of tech.

Robot dogs could patrol the US-Mexico border

This handout image shows Ghost Robotics’ Vision 60 robot dog along the US-Mexico border.

“It’s a battery-powered computer that walks on four legs and literally stops working in four hours. There’s no way they’re taking over anything,” he says.

And, he notes, “it’s a robot that’s remotely controlled by a human in the middle.”

Nonetheless, Parikh says his company’s robots offer a number of advantages in border areas. U.S. Customs and Border Protection patrols a wide geographic area, he notes, often under difficult conditions.

“It’s a good way for technology to add value,” he says, “to fill in the holes.”

When testing the 100-pound robots, different types of cameras and sensors were mounted on them, transmitting real-time data to humans using them via a laptop computer or handheld remote, DHS said.

Teams first tested them on asphalt, grass and hills in Lorton, Virginia, then tested them in more realistic scenarios in El Paso, Texas, where they climbed hills, ravines and rocks. The El Paso tests simulated sentry missions and inspections. And the drills also included maneuvering in tight spaces, high heat and low oxygen conditions, “situations that are especially dangerous for CBP agents and officers,” DHS said.

DHS Science & Technology program manager Brenda Long describes the dogs as “an excellent choice,” given CBP’s broad mission and the many risks its personnel face.

“The southern frontier can be an inhospitable place for man and beast, and that’s exactly why a machine can excel there,” she said in the department’s press release.

Border defenders say they already felt under siege

Robot dogs could patrol the US-Mexico border

This image released by the USAF in 2020 shows USAF Staff Sergeant Carmen Pontello introducing Hammer, a working dog, to Ghost Robotics Vision 60 at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

Advocates for the border community have long accused the US government of militarizing the region and using excessive surveillance. And the announcement of the robot dog test does not help matters, says Gaubeca

“Border communities already feel over-policed, over-militarized, and yet they are pulling out this new technology and bragging about it at a time when families are worried about how to get food on their tables and how to inflation,” she said. “And it completely ignores the border communities as a community. It’s like they don’t recognize that we are human beings on both sides.”

For Gaubeca, it comes down to how resources are allocated.

“It’s a use of technology that creates more problems and doesn’t solve what we consider to be the problem., how do we hold this agency accountable and how do we create a more humanitarian and efficient system at the border? ” she says. “They should spend the money on something more humanitarian and effective, rather than intimidating. »

The Biden Administration said they wanted to create a more efficient, more humane and more orderly system at the borderbut “it completely contradicts that sentiment,” she says.

Ghost Robotics partnered with the US Department of Defense in the past. And Parikh noted that he had just hung up on the Ukrainian Defense Ministry before speaking with CNN this week. But he said the robot dogs on the US border were not part of a military effort – and any suggestion that they were is foolish.

“It’s just another sensor carrier. It’s really remote…It’s really for sensing around the environment. It doesn’t really interact with people. That’s not why ‘It’s done. There are no weapons on it,’ he said. “It’s not about militarizing the border. It doesn’t stop people from telling them ‘don’t go here’. He can’t do that. He’s a little robot.

The technology, he says, is designed to keep people safe. But could it ever be used against migrants at the border?

“It never even came,” Parikh says. “It’s not even a remote use case that we’ve ever discussed or talked about.”

People can’t even agree on “a basic physical wall made of concrete and metal,” he says.

“Do we really think we are going to start arming robots? It’s stupid to do that. I don’t think it’s in America’s DNA either,” Parikh says. “We live in a country that has so many rules and regulatory requirements in place that things like this are just remote and virtually impossible without public input.”

Parikh says Ghost Robotics regularly works with legislators as well as government agencies.

“It doesn’t happen in a vacuum… It has to go through processes and rules. Everything we do, everything, is questioned. Everyone has the ability to question what we do.”

It’s not just the border

When Greg Nojeim heard about robot dogs, his mind filled with questions. Chief among them: has anyone studied their impact on privacy?

“The border has become a testing ground for new intrusive surveillance technologies,” says Nojeim, co-director of the security and surveillance project at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

And in many cases, he says, the law hasn’t caught up with developing technology.

“Once the platform is accepted, believe me, new uses will be developed. It’s inevitable. And I don’t think we’re ready as a society to say, this use is allowed, it’s not. no. I don’t think the legislatures are ready to say it’s permitted, that this use isn’t. … I’m afraid the technology is ahead of the law.”

He says when that happens, civil liberties suffer. And that, he says, should matter to everyone, whether you live near the border or not.

As a recent Los Angeles Times opinion column notedsurveillance technologies that start at the border often end up in other parts of the country.

Facial recognition technology is a recent example, says Nojeim.

“This technology has now spread to some police departments, and people are finding that it doesn’t identify people as well as it could, and that people of color are being misidentified at an alarming rate,” he says.

If robot dogs start patrolling the border, Nojeim says, it’s only a matter of time before they can show up in your community as well.


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