This is probably one of the stranger stories to come out of Los Angeles lately and that’s really saying something if you’ve been following the news coming from the City of Angels. L.A. has joined many other cities in testing and deploying some robotic technology when fighting crime. This includes a couple of what have come to be known as “robot police dogs.” One of them showed up yesterday in Hollywood in response to a call about an armed suspect. The CBS headline was a bit on the dramatic side. “LAPD deploys “robot dog” during standoff with armed man.” And I suppose that’s technically true, but the details provided by the police make it sound considerably less like Robocop and more like just another day on the beat.
A new “robot police dog” helped LAPD end a nearly 3-hour long standoff with a man who was allegedly armed with a handgun on a Metro bus in Hollywood.
The incident started around 3:45 a.m. on Wednesday when a bus passenger noticed another passenger who appeared to be sleeping with a gun at his feet, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
The bus driver was notified and stopped the bus at the intersection of Melrose and Western Avenues where all passengers got off.
So it was early in the morning hours and some passengers on a bus noticed a guy sleeping in one of the seats and he appeared to have a handgun by his feet on the floor. They quietly alerted the driver who pulled over and allowed the rest of the passengers to evacuate while calling the cops.
A SWAT team showed up and attempted to communicate with the man and get him to come out peacefully. But he either ignored them or they were unable to wake him up, so the situation turned into a “standoff.” Not wanting to send in an officer to potentially startle an armed man out of his slumber, they opted to send in “SPOT” to deal with the situation.
The robot dog didn’t go in and evaluate the situation using Artificial Intelligence and blaze into action. This model doesn’t have those sorts of capabilities. (Though they are working on that as we speak.) SPOT didn’t even have a firearm, although that is also an option. The robot is controlled remotely by a SWAT team member who can “see” through the dog’s cameras and “speak” to the suspect and hear their responses.
The man (who may have been homeless and simply sleeping on the bus that night) was convinced to surrender and a handgun was recovered at the scene. But just imagine what that guy must have felt like while slumbering on a city bus. He is suddenly awakened and finds the bus completely empty and there’s a robot staring him down. I’d probably surrender also.
All joking aside, this is one of the upsides to robotic technology in police work. It doesn’t have to look like Robocop. The LAPD used the technology to go into a situation where an officer might have found themself in a shootout and defused the situation and took the suspect into custody safely. And if the guy had wound up shooting holes in SPOT, they would have been out $278,000 (which was donated to them anyway), but that would still be better than a dead officer. Congratulations to all involved. Just let us know before you start installing the AI systems so we can move out of town.