The US is testing robotic patrol dogs along its frontier with Mexico that it says could provide “mechanical reinforcements” for border guards, in a move criticized by a leading domestic rights group as a “civil liberties disaster”.
Adding to the outcry, the company that developed the dogs, Ghost Robotics, has previously showcased a four-legged robot that has a sniper rifle attached to its back.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said this week that its research and development arm had offered border guards “a helping hand (or ‘paw’)” to work to “force-multiply” patrols.
“Due to the demands of the region, adding quadruped mechanical reinforcements is a smart use of resources,” the DHS said in a blog post.
Gavin Kenneally, the chief operating officer at Ghost Robotics, said the unarmed 45kg robot dog was “bred” to walk on sand, rocks and hills, as well as human-built environments such as stairs.
The robots were tested in El Paso, Texas, on the international border. “In a desert area, the dogs were programmed to go on simulated sentry duty,” DHS said.
It suggested that the bulky metal robots could even be used “as cover” for border guards.
“Just like anywhere else, you have your standard criminal behavior, but along the border you can also have human smuggling, drug smuggling, as well as smuggling of other contraband – including firearms or even potentially, [weapons of mass destruction],” Agent Brett Becker, of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) innovation team, was quoted as saying.
Federal agents operating along the Mexican border have long been accused of misconduct and mistreatment of the migrants and asylum seekers attempting to enter the US. Joe Biden’s administration has been sharply criticized by refugee advocates for the growing number of immigrants being held at private facilities.
The American Civil Liberties Union warned on Thursday that Washington’s plan to use robot patrol dogs on its borders was “a civil liberties disaster in the making”.
“The government must retract this dangerous proposal, and the Biden administration must put the brakes on our country’s slide into an anti-immigrant dystopia,” the advocacy group said.
In its post, DHS said people should not be “surprised if in the future we see robot ‘Fido’ out in the field, walking side-by-side with [CBP] staff”.