When the Department of Homeland Security announced it was training quadruped “robot dogs” to help secure the US-Mexico border, a spokesperson described the nearly 2,000-mile region as “an inhospitable place for man and beast, and that is exactly why a machine may excel there." The border has long been a testing ground for emerging surveillance and policing technologies, which activists have argued make the space even more dangerous to migrants, all in the name of protection, law and order, The Guardian reports. Nicknamed the “smart wall,” the tools used at the border include semi-autonomous surveillance drones and surveillance towers equipped with cameras and night vision, and radar. Former U.S. Rep. William Hurd, who represented the only Republican-held district on the US-Mexico border for six years, endorsed a plan to bury fiber optic sensors capable of detecting underground movement.
The robot dogs would be one of many technologies deployed as part of the “smart wall," but they aren’t limited to the border. Police departments started trying out the devices in recent years. Massachusetts state police tested the robot dogs in 2019. Police in Honolulu used the same model to screen citizens for COVID-19 and scan their temperatures. Reports of robot dogs have drawn fierce criticism. They’re debuting amid a nationwide discussion on police power. They’re expensive, ranging anywhere between $90,000 and $150,000, when many are discussing police budgeting. They’re equipped with a host of AI-enabled surveillance devices, alarming privacy activists, and do terribly on social media because they resemble the world-ending machines featured in Netflix’s dystopian satire Black Mirror. Last year, the New York Police Department suspended its contract with Boston Dynamics, a manufacturer of robot dogs, and return its Digidog after footage of the dog went viral on social media.