In what is sure to be only the beginning of human vs. robot confrontations, a surveillance robot belonging to the police was recently shot after a six-hour standoff with a 62-year-old heavily inebriated man.
As reported by the Ohio-based Chillicothe Gazette, officers in the town of Waverly responded to a complaint that shots were fired inside a bedroom in a home and that the homeowner had more guns and was threatening others. Police knocked on the door, called on the phone, and even brought in a trained negotiator, but the man refused to speak to anyone for several hours. So the officers contacted the Pike County Sheriff’s Department and the Highway Patrol’s Strategic Response Team for assistance.
What officers got was two search robots.
First, a camera-equipped robot entered the home to locate the man and the guns. A second larger bot was then sent in, but when the owner spotted it, he opened fire with a small caliber pistol damaging it. Shortly afterward, police finally entered the home and used an electronic stun device to subdue him. After being issued a search warrant, authorities found a number of firearms within the residence, including two AK47 rifles and a 75-round ammunition drum, which is illegal in Ohio.
After being evaluated by medical doctors and mental health officials, he will be charged with two felony counts of unlawful possession of a dangerous ordinance and vandalism of government property, among other charges.
Just as the military continues to use robots in dangerous situations to humans, police departments are embracing technologies such as automated license-plate readers, face ID scanners, taser cameras, facial recognition software, drones, and now robots. In fact, last November another Ohio police department was showing off the recently acquired $11k AVATAR surveillance robot from RoboteX that will assist the SWAT team.
Robots like these are increasingly being used in standoffs in which armed people are not cooperating with police. For example, a related event occurred last year in Utah when two cousins who were roommates got into an argument and shots were fired. When SWAT arrived, one cousin surrendered but the other refused to come out. He did, however, surrender his shotgun when the police sent a robot in.
Police departments are looking to high-tech systems to make it even easier to catch lawbreakers and to protect the lives of officers. While there are certainly concerns about privacy and individual rights when the authorities have the kind of power that these technologies afford, a robot is much safer to interact with than an actual police officer. After all, the consequence of the intoxicated Ohio man’s action is to be charged with damage to police equipment rather than, at the least, attempted murder charges if he had fired upon police.
Incidents between citizens and police robots will be on the rise as more bots are brought into service. Hopefully, we can remember that a potentially deadly armed standoff resulted in no one being hurt, thanks to technology and those who use it responsibly.