Feb 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Lawmakers question plans to use robot dogs on U.S.-Mexico border

The robot dog overlooking the U.S.-Mexico border in the desert.

The robot dog. Photo: Courtesy of Ghost Robotics. 

The planned use of robot dogs along the U.S.-Mexico border is already facing skepticism from members of both political parties.

Driving the news: U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who represents a border district where robot dogs could be dispatched, told Axios the technology is "ghoulish" and a waste.

Details: A research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently announced 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.
  • Ghost Robotics CEO Jiren Parikh told Axios the robot dogs have special sensors and can carry equipment to identify drugs, nuclear materials and chemical weapons.

In a statement to Axios, the Department of Homeland Security said this project is still in the research and development phase and there is currently no timetable to deploy the robots.

  • The agency said the robots are not designed or being tested to engage with migrants.

What they're saying: “Militarizing our border is wasteful and evidence of our country's long-standing failure to address migration in a strategic, intelligent way," Escobar told Axios.

  • "The new ‘border robot dogs’ are a ghoulish repudiation of America's values, and are potentially very dangerous, presenting a significant liability for the American taxpayer."
  • Instead, Escobar said the U.S. government should be focusing on the root causes of migration in the Western Hemisphere.

U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.), who represents a border district next to Escobar's, said she supports more technology along the border but doesn't know if robot dogs are the answer.

  • “Our broken southern border does need technological enhancements, but so-called 'robot dogs' are an impractical distraction that won’t make a lick of difference unless the Biden administration and DHS start enforcing our immigration laws," Herrell told Axios.

Flashback: The New York Police Department last year terminated its contract for a robotic dog with company Boston Dynamics after residents complained.

  • Its presence at 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.
  • Digidog, agile enough to climb stairs, was never armed but came when the nation was locked in nationwide protests against police following the death of George Floyd.

Be smart: Robot dogs have been a source of fascination (and fear) since videos of prototypes appeared online and one such robot garnered excitement at a 2017 TED talk.

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