The Honolulu Police Department in Hawaii is using a $150,000 robot named “Spot” to take the temperatures of homeless people in its effort to combat COVID-19.
Lt. Joseph O’Neal, acting lieutenant of HPD’s community outreach unit, justified the cost, which was borne by pandemic relief funds. He argued a tool that “takes transmission out of the equation” is not “a waste” from a long-term perspective.
KHON-TV in Honolulu reported Spot, a product of Boston Dynamics, is capable of taking a person’s temperature from a distance of seven feet in a fraction of a second.
“It also has two-way communication and can deliver PPE (personal protective equipment), food and water to someone who does test positive for COVID,” the news anchor said.
The Honolulu Police Department said that of the 1,700 people at homeless sites, only 14 have tested positive for COVID-19, or .08%.
KITV-TV in the Hawaii capital reported HPD previously said the need for Spot arose when officers and civilians were being removed from duty to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposures.
Hawaii is using a $150,000 covid robot dog to take “homeless peoples temperature” !!! pic.twitter.com/J8ad9HuPqL
— Luke Rudkowski (@Lukewearechange) October 21, 2021
USA Today reported there are about 500 Spot robots in operation nationwide. Utility companies, for example, use them to inspect high-voltage zones. And equipped with sensors, they monitor construction sites, mines and factories.
Jongwook Kim, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, is concerned about the privacy and civil liberty implications.
“Because these people are houseless it’s considered OK to do that,” he told USA Today. “At some point it will come out again for some different use after the pandemic is over.”
The New York Police Department began using Spot last fall after painting the robot blue and renaming it “Digidog.” A public outcry erupted after it was spotlighted on social media, and the NYPD promptly returned it to its maker.
“This is some Robocop stuff, this is crazy,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.
Boston Dynamics says it’s trying to do a better job of explaining Spot to the public.
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