ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Even the chief of police admitted he never saw this day coming.
Rather than sending in a police K-9 or human into a dangerous situation, the St. Petersburg Police Department on Monday added unique technology to its ranks.
Meet Spot — a robotic dog that can walk over rough terrain, climb stairs and open doors. When the technology was introduced by robotics company Boston Dynamics in 2016, the internet called it a "nightmare" and "terrifying." It's now 2022 and with more advanced technologies in our lives, Chief Anthony Holloway positioned the robot as a tool that can save lives.
It has an onboard camera to allow the operator to see what's in front of the robot and figure out how to move. An intercom also allows the operator to speak with and hear a person while out on a call, which Holloway said could be helpful in a hostage situation. The chief added Spot is not weaponized.
The robodog also likes to party, as seen in Samuel Adams' Super Bowl commercial.
"Spot will only be used on SWAT call-out, it is a de-escalation tool," Holloway said. "Spot will be used on where, instead of sending an officer up to a scene, Spot can go up to that scene.
"He can open a door or," Holloway continued, catching himself, "it can open a door. It can go inside, it can take a look around to see what's there, what danger is there, instead of putting those officers in danger."
Holloway mentioned Spot also could be used by fire rescue in dangerous situations, and it would be made available to any Tampa Bay-area law enforcement agency that wishes to train with it.
Spot won't be used in situations like routine police calls, crowd control and intelligence-gathering, the department said.
The chief stressed no public funding was used to purchase the roughly $70,000 robot for the department, which he said is the third in the U.S. to use such equipment. Instead, it was a gift from the Speer Foundation and St. Petersburg residents Brett and Lisa Speer Vickers, the agency said in a statement.
Training with Spot began last year under then-St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, which continued and was ultimately approved for use under current Mayor Ken Welch, Holloway said.
The New York City Police Department last year canceled a $94,000 contract with Boston Dynamics amid concerns of police militarization and abuses of force, NPR reported. Video surfaced of the robotic dog patrolling a neighborhood in the Bronx after officers responded to a hostage situation.
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called it a "robotic surveillance ground drone."
The Massachusetts State Police was the first in the U.S. to test the equipment for law enforcement use, calling the robotic technology "a valuable tool for law enforcement because of its ability to provide situational awareness of potentially dangerous environments," WBUR reported.
"The Speer Foundation — we really want to work with the community and help the community bridge the gap with the police officers, and anything we can do to give them information and resources that we can to help with that relationship, that's what we really love to do," Lisa Speer Vickers said.
Spot will never go out just to go out, Holloway said.
But could it become police chief?
"Probably one day," Holloway said.