HPD defends use of pricey robot dog taking temperatures at homeless program

Published: Aug. 27, 2021 at 4:35 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Police Department is defending its use of a pricey robot dog to mostly take temperatures at the Keehi Lagoon homeless program the agency runs.

The dog, known as SPOT, cost more than $150,000 and was paid for using federal CARES funds.

HPD video shows residents of the shelter walking up to the dog, standing about 6 feet away.

The dog scans the person for a fever. The image of the person and their temperature appear on a screen that’s watched by a staff member.

On Sunday, HPD said the equipment was used to help monitor a COVID-positive resident at The Homeless Outreach and Navigation for Unsheltered Persons, or HONU.

SPOT, HPD's controversial robot dog at HONU
SPOT, HPD's controversial robot dog at HONU(Honolulu Police Department)

“Deliver food and water and actually watched over the person while the (Department of Health) was in transit and it took about four hours total,” said HPD Lt. Joseph O’Neal.

He said the robot did all the interaction.

Critics call that insulting.

“The sheer indignity of treating people like that,” said Joshua Wisch, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.

“You have people who are trying to get shelter, trying to get help and they’re being approached by a robot instead of an actual caring human being. It’s downright dystopian,” Wisch said.

A Rhode Island lawmaker also used the word “dystopian” to describe SPOT’s use by law enforcement, before calling for a ban on the use of robot dogs.

New York’s Police Department also canceled its order for a robot dog after fierce criticism.

Catherine Lee, a frequent observer of the Honolulu Police Commission, calls SPOT a glorified temperature taker.

“The whole world has figured out how to take temperatures without spending $150,000,” Lee said.

She is concerned about how SPOT will be used post pandemic.

HPD said for now, the tech is allowing staff and residents to distance, preventing spread of the virus.

Since HONU opened in December 2019, 1750 people have gone through the HPD shelter. There have been 14 COVID patients since March 2020, the department said.

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