Mar 1, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Lawmakers express "extreme concern" over border robot dog plan

A robot dog in an ally picks up a bag.
The robot dog. Photo: Courtesy of Ghost Robotics. 

A small group of Latino U.S. House members recently expressed "extreme concern" about a plan to potentially dispatch robot dogs along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Driving the news: A letter obtained by Axios Latino shows that U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA) are seeking a meeting with U.S. Customs and Border Protection about the robots.

Details: In the letter, the House members write that the term "robot dogs" is a "disingenuous moniker that attempts to soft-pitch the use of this technology."

  • "It downplays the threat the robots pose to migrants arriving at our southern border and the part they play in a long history of surveillance and privacy violations in our border communities."
  • The letter also said they are concerned that the robot dogs will inevitably result in armed patrols and that they could critically injure, or even kill, migrants or American citizens.
  • Robots used in combination with drones, facial recognition technology and license plate readers, pose civil liberties risks, the letter said.

Background: A research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced last month 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 over two years.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that the project is still in the research and development phase and there is currently no timetable to deploy.

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

Ghost Robotics CEO Jiren Parikh told Axios robots in development have special sensors and can carry equipment to identify drugs, nuclear materials and chemical weapons.

  • The robots can explore confined spaces and have long-range and night vision cameras, Parikh said.

Be smart: Robots and drones are becoming a bigger part of law enforcement, but their presence makes some people feel uncomfortable, as they've come to symbolize the growing militarization of the police.

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