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Boston Dynamics

Law enforcement is increasingly relying on new technologies like robotics.

Robotics is a vast field that combines multiple disciplines to create some remarkable innovations. Although most people are familiar with robots working in hospitality and retail, they’re now branching into other sectors. Robotics in law enforcement is becoming a norm.

Robots have more potential in law enforcement than ever as advances like artificial intelligence (AI) push them further.

Today’s robots build on a long history of technology in law enforcement. For instance, fingerprint scanning has been part of law enforcement for years. Biometrics has the potential to connect individuals to crimes. Robots can also use biometrics. With facial recognition technology, they can find suspects during routine surveillance.

Similarly, law enforcement professionals use global positioning technology to confirm the presence of suspects at the scene of a crime. Some robots can perform the same task, while others gather surveillance footage and let officers focus on other work.

With this foundation, law enforcement officers can use robotics in the following ways.

The ability of robots to save lives is an overarching theme for their presence in policing. By handling potentially dangerous jobs, they keep officers from risk.

Bomb diffusion is one of the most advanced features of modern robots. This can save officers and residents since the machines handle the riskiest part of the operation. Robots can also transport injured officers by carrying them away from crime scenes or toward required assistance. Since these robots operate so quickly, this can save lives.

Robots can also save civilian lives. Severe weather like hurricanes can collapse houses and trap people in the rubble. Smaller, camera-equipped robots can show officers where everyone is, which helps formulate plans to save them. Thermal imaging tools let them see at night or in darker places.

Law enforcement professionals must also be vigilant against fraud. Robots help them be more attentive and hold the right people accountable.

COVID-19 has brought new emphasis to vaccine-related fraud, but it’s not a new issue. In 2016, B. Braun Medical, Inc. paid $7.8 million under the False Claims Act after knowingly selling potentially contaminated syringes. AI-enabled robots can help reduce this fraud.

AI-powered robots use predictive modeling to learn from previous instances of fraud or theft. By learning from past cases, the system can alert law enforcement agencies when similar cases occur. If it’s wrong, the AI will learn from that and further improve for the future.

Surveillance has come a long way from where it started, thanks to robotics in law enforcement. Video and audio quality have improved alongside faster connectivity and new tracking methods. Now, robots can conduct autonomous surveillance.

Boston Dynamics’ robodog is an excellent example. This robot garnered attention in 2020 when it enforced social distancing to help keep people safe from COVID-19. Now, even more law enforcement agencies are using it for surveillance.

Similarly, many drones have high-quality cameras, night vision, and thermal imaging to capture footage 24 hours a day. Sometimes, suspects could be flying drones themselves to conduct their own surveillance. In these instances, some law enforcement officials use heavy-duty drones to capture them.

Home security is a growing industry, on track to reach a value of almost $79 billion by 2025. Homeowners can now use robots that move around autonomously to detect any suspicious activity, like a break-in or someone trespassing. Sensors help them detect any visual or audio situations that require attention immediately.

Home security robots’ connectivity and response are the main areas of concern for law enforcement officers. Robots can record video and audio that officers can work with later should the suspect get away. Automatic alerts and communication with police are also helpful, as officers can walk homeowners through stressful situations until they arrive.

This dynamic creates a safer environment for homeowners everywhere. Thanks to robots, the connection between the community and law enforcement can be much stronger at any time.

These new technologies also bring ethical concerns as they settle into public and private usage. After reports of racial biases in technology, the path forward with robotics will be fragile.

While, in theory, tech is impartial, technologies like AI can carry human biases. For instance, facial recognition technology has shown prejudice against Black people and individuals with darker skin. Some areas, like Boston and San Francisco, have moved to ban law enforcement agencies from using facial recognition technology due to this potential for bias.

A similar concern emerges with militarized law enforcement robotics. For instance, the New York Police Department used Boston Robotics’ Digidog to negotiate a hostage situation earlier this year. Lawmakers responded with concerns that robots are becoming too advanced and militarized to be safe, specifically in cases like these. Calls to ban armed robots have arisen, claiming they could make a fatal mistake with incorrect information or programming.

Integrating robots into law enforcement takes careful consideration and awareness, but it’s possible for robots to help communities.

First, agencies should establish outreach programs for people to provide feedback to see what the community needs. For instance, if there’s a trend of nonviolent property crimes, law enforcement officers can use robots for passive surveillance. Other times, using drones to find missing people will be the most effective use of robots.

It’s also critical to work with technologies that emphasize nonlethal apprehension methods. Robots that process evidence or surveillance footage can provide the information officers need to find suspects without endangering anyone.

Last, law enforcement officials should work with research and statistics, providing a clearer picture of how agencies should move forward. For instance, seeing the reports of bias can show where law enforcement may need to change its approach. Robotics can help.

Using robotics productively — like searching for missing people or defusing bombs — can build a path to a brighter future. If programmed and used correctly, law enforcement robotics can help both officers and the people they swear to protect and serve.

Shannon Flynn is a technology writer who covers the latest news in blockchain, cybersecurity and IT trends. Shannon is also the Managing Editor of ReHack.