Feb 10, 2022 - Technology

U.S. testing robot dogs to help patrol the border

The robot dog sit still in a field of grass.

The robot dog. Photo: Courtesy of Ghost Robotics. 

Robot dogs could soon help patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.

Why it matters: Both political parties have long said U.S. Customs and Border Protection needs more technology to monitor the 2,000-mile terrain, but some Democrats and advocates say the border is already overly militarized.

Driving the news: A research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced last week it has been working with the Philadelphia-based company Ghost Robotics to develop a robot dog for the border.

  • The dogs can transmit real-time video and other data back to human operators while climbing over sand, rocks and hills.
  • The project has been under development for two and a half years. It's unclear how many robot dogs will be deployed, when and where to.

Details: Ghost Robotics CEO Jiren Parikh told Axios he couldn't share more information about the robot dogs the Border Patrol will use, but some in development have special sensors and can carry equipment to identify drugs, nuclear materials and chemical weapons.

  • "We are trying to keep CBP and other government personnel in the field out of harm's way."  
  • The robots can explore confined spaces and have long-range and night vision cameras, Parikh said.
A robot dog in a field of grass.
The robot dog. Photo: Courtesy of Ghost Robotics. 

Yes, but: Robot dogs are controversial.

  • The use of one for a hostage situation at a public housing building in Manhattan caused a fierce backlash among residents and politicians who saw it as alienating and a waste of taxpayer money.
A robot dog overlooks a desert terrain along the U.S.-Mexico border with mountains in the background.
A robot dog overlooking the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo: Courtesy of Ghost Robotics. 

What they're saying: "It is really sad to see how much money has been invested in military technology to seal the border," Fernando García, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group Border Network for Human Rights, told Axios.

  • "You don't see an effort to really change immigration policy that would actually fix the broken systems."

But the use of high-tech robot dogs along the border probably isn't violating any constitutional rights, Michael Olivas, the emeritus William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center, told Axios.

  • The CBP has introduced all sorts of new technology along the border, from small drones to airplanes equipped with high-tech sensors. Case law has protected the use of such technology, Olivas said.
  • "In fairness, if there are people who are lost in the Sonoran Desert, these can also be lifesaving."

Senator Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, will review the results of any studies CBP is doing on the robo dogs "as he does with any new technology, based on whether it can smartly and effectively improve border security,” spokesperson Marisol Samayoa told Axios.

Don't forget: Border Patrol agents apprehended nearly 1.7 million people suspected of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in fiscal year 2021 — the highest number on record, Axios' Stef Kight reported in October.

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