Robotic Police Dogs: Useful Hounds or Dehumanizing Machines?

Hawaii Public Radio

APA robotic dog called Spot trots during a Honolulu Police Department demonstration to reporters Friday, May 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher)

HONOLULU — If you’re homeless and looking for temporary shelter in Honolulu, expect a visit from a robotic police dog that will scan your eye to make sure you don’t have a fever.

That’s just one of the ways public safety agencies are starting to use Spot, the best-known of a new commercial category of robots that trot around with animal-like agility.

The handful of police officials experimenting with the four-legged machines say they’re just another tool, like existing drones and simple wheeled robots, to keep emergency responders out of harm’s way as they scout for dangers. But privacy watchdogs — the human kind — warn that police are secretly rushing to buy the robots without setting safeguards against aggressive, invasive or dehumanizing uses.

In Honolulu, the police department spent about $150,000 in federal pandemic relief money to buy their Spot from robotics firm Boston Dynamics for use at a government-run tent city near the airport.

“Because these people are houseless it’s considered OK to do that,” said Jongwook Kim, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaiʻi. “At some point it will come out again for some different use after the pandemic is over.”

Acting Lt. Joseph O’Neal of the Honolulu Police Department’s community outreach unit defended the robot’s use in a media demonstration earlier this year. He said it has protected officers, shelter staff and residents by scanning body temperatures between meal times at a shelter where homeless people could quarantine and get tested for COVID-19. The robot is also used to remotely interview individuals who have tested positive.

“We have not had a single person out there that said, ‘That’s scary, that’s worrisome,’” O’Neal said. “We don’t just walk around and arbitrarily scan people.”

Police use of such robots is still rare and largely untested — and hasn’t always gone over well with the public. Honolulu officials faced a backlash when a local news organization, Honolulu Civil Beat, revealed that the Spot purchase was made with federal relief money.

“One of the big challenges is accurately describing the state of the technology to people who have never had personal experience with it,” Michael Perry, vice president of business development at Boston Dynamics, said in an interview. “Most people are applying notions from science fiction to what the robot’s doing.”

For one of its customers, the Dutch national police, explaining the technology includes emphasizing that Spot is a very good robot — well-behaved and not so smart after all.

“It doesn’t think for itself,” Marjolein Smit, director of the special operations unit of the Dutch national police, said of the remote-controlled robot. “If you tell it to go to the left, it will go to the left. If you tell it to stop, it will stop.”

Earlier this year, her police division sent its Spot into the site of a deadly drug lab explosion near the Belgian border to check for dangerous chemicals and other hazards.

Perry said the company’s acceptable use guidelines prohibit Spot’s weaponization or anything that would violate privacy or civil rights laws, which he said puts the Honolulu police in the clear. It’s all part of a year-long effort by Boston Dynamics, which for decades relied on military research grants, to make its robots seem friendlier and thus more palatable to local governments and consumer-oriented businesses.

By contrast, a lesser-known rival, Philadelphia-based Ghost Robotics, has no qualms about weaponization and supplies its dog-like robots to several branches of the U.S. military and its allies.

“It’s just plug and play, anything you want,” said Ghost Robotics CEO Jiren Parikh, who was critical of Boston Dynamics’ stated ethical principles as “selective morality” because of the company’s past involvement with the military.

Parikh added that his company doesn’t market its four-legged robots to police departments, though he said it would make sense for police to use them. “It’s basically a camera on a mobile device,” he said.

There are roughly 500 Spot robots now in the wild. Perry said they’re commonly used by utility companies to inspect high-voltage zones and other hazardous areas. Spot is also used to monitor construction sites, mines and factories, equipped with whatever sensor is needed for the job.

It’s still mostly controlled by humans, though all they have to do is tell it which direction to go and it can intuitively climb stairs or cross over rough terrain. It can also operate autonomously, but only if it’s already memorized an assigned route and there aren’t too many surprise obstacles.

“The first value that most people see in the robot is taking a person out of a hazardous situation,” Perry said.

Kim, of the ACLU in Hawaiʻi, acknowledged that there might be many legitimate uses for such machines, but said opening the door for police robots that interact with people is probably not a good idea. He pointed to how Dallas police in 2016 stuck explosives on a wheeled robot to kill a sniper, fueling an ongoing debate about “killer robots” in policing and warfighting.

“There’s the potential for these robots to increase the militarization of police departments and use it in ways that are unacceptable,” Kim said. “Maybe it’s not something we even want to let law enforcement have.”


Super Spyware That Can Take Total Control of Smartphones

NSO Group Technologies (NSO standing for Niv, Shalev and Omri, the names of the company’s founders) is an Israeli technology firm whose spyware called Pegasus enables the remote surveillance of smartphones. It was founded in 2010 by Niv Carmi, Omri Lavie, and Shalev Hulio. It employed almost 500 people as of 2017, and is based in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, Israel.

Pegasus is spyware developed by the Israeli cyberarms firm NSO Group that can be covertly installed on mobile phones (and other devices) running most versions of iOS and Android. The 2021 Project Pegasus revelations suggest that current Pegasus software is able to exploit all recent iOS versions up to iOS 14.6. According to the Washington Post and other prominent media sources, Pegasus not only enables the keystroke monitoring of all communications from a phone (texts, emails, web searches) but it also enables phone call and location tracking, while also permitting NSO Group to hijack both the mobile phone’s microphone and camera, thus turning it into a constant surveillance device.

Pegasus was discovered in August 2018 after a failed attempt at installing it on an iPhone belonging to a human rights activist led to an investigation revealing details about the spyware, its abilities, and the security vulnerabilities it exploited. As of 2016, Pegasus was capable of reading text messages, tracking calls, collecting passwords, tracking location, accessing the target device’s microphone and camera, and harvesting information from apps. News of the spyware caused significant media coverage. It was called the “most sophisticated” smartphone attack ever, and was the first time that a malicious remote exploit using jailbreak to gain unrestricted access to an iPhone had been detected.

On August 23, 2020, according to intelligence obtained by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the NSO Group was reported to have sold Pegasus spyware software for hundreds of millions of US dollars to the United Arab Emirates and the other Gulf States, for surveillance of anti-regime activists, journalists and political leaders from rival nations, with Israeli government encouragement and mediation. Later, in December 2020, Al Jazeera investigation show The Tip of the Iceberg, Spy partners, showed exclusive footage about Pegasus and its penetration into the phones of media professionals and activists, used by Israel to eavesdrop on its opponents and even its allies.

The spyware can be installed on devices running certain versions of iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system, as well as some Android devices. Rather than being a specific exploit, Pegasus is a suite of exploits that uses many vulnerabilities in the system. Infection vectors include clicking links, the Photos app, the Apple Music app, and iMessage. Some of the exploits Pegasus uses are zero-click—that is, they can run without any interaction from the victim. Once installed, Pegasus has been reported to be able to run arbitrary code, extract contacts, call logs, messages, photos, web browsing history, settings, as well as gather information from apps including but not limited to communications apps iMessage, Gmail, Viber, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Skype.

Although Pegasus is stated as intended to be used against criminals and terrorists, use by authoritarian governments to spy on critics and opponents has often been reported.

Use by India
In late 2019, Facebook initiated a suit against NSO, claiming that Pegasus had been used to intercept the WhatsApp communications of a number of activists, journalists, and bureaucrats in India, leading to accusations that the Indian government was involved.

Phone numbers of Indian ministers, opposition leaders, ex-election commissioners and journalists were allegedly found on a database of NSO hacking targets by Project Pegasus in 2021.

Independent digital forensic analysis conducted on 10 Indian phones whose numbers were present in the data showed signs of either an attempted or successful Pegasus hack. The results of the forensic analysis threw up shows sequential correlations between the time and date a phone number is entered in the list and the beginning of surveillance. The gap usually ranges between a few minutes and a couple of hours.

11 phone numbers associated with a female employee of The Supreme Court of India and her immediate family, who accused the former Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, of sexual harrasment, are also allegedly found on a database indicating possibility of their phones being snooped.

Records also indicate that phone numbers of some of the key political players in Karnataka appear to have been selected around the time when an intense power struggle was taking place between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress-led state government in 2019.

It was reported that the Indian government used Pegasus to spy on Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and diplomats from Iran, Afghanistan, China, Nepal and Saudi Arabia.

Use by Mexican drug cartels
Reversing the intended use against criminals, Pegasus has been used to target and intimidate Mexican journalists by drug cartels and cartel-entwined government actors.

Use by Saudi Arabia
Pegasus software, whose sales are licensed by the government of Israel to foreign governments, helped Saudi Arabia spy on Jamal Kashoggi, who was later killed in Turkey.

Pegasus was also used to spy on Jeff Bezos after Mohammed bin Salman, the crown-prince of Saudi Arabia, exchanged messages with him that exploited then-unknown vulnerabilities in WhatsApp.

Top 5 World’s Biggest Mining Excavators

1 – Caterpillar 6090 FS Excavator


At an operating weight of an astounding 1,000 tonnes, the 6090 FS is the world’s largest excavator. With twin Cummins QSK60 engines, it boasts and total engine rating of 3360 kW / 4500 HP. When Caterpillar expanded their mining capabilities with a purchase of Bucyrus in 2011, they based the 6090 FS on the Bucyrus RH400, which was originally launched in 1997. It can fill the largest Caterpillar dump truck (the 797) in only four passes based on its 52 m3 bucket with 93.6 tonne payload.

2 – Bucyrus RH 400 Excavator


Originally launched as the Terex RH 400 and rebranded when Bucyrus purchased the Terex mining division in 2010, this model has an operating weight of 980 tonnes. With identical engine capacity to the Caterpillar 6090 RS, it requires six car batteries to simply start the engines. It has previously set the hydraulic mining excavator world record for the ability to move up to 9,900 tonnes of material in a single hour. It previously held the title of world’s largest excavator, prior to the release of the Cat 6090 FS.

3 – Hitachi EX8000-6 Excavator


The largest excavator in the Hitachi fleet, the EX8000-6 offers the versatility of being fitted with either a 43.3 m3 backhoe bucket or a 40 m3 loading shovel. Boasting an operating weight up to 837 tonnes, it can fill the largest Hitachi dump truck (EH4000AC-3) in just five passes. The twin Cummins engines give a combined capacity of 2900 kW / 3888 HP. For perspective Hitachi’s flagship mining excavator the EX1200-6, has an engine capacity one sixth the size of this!

4 – Liebherr R9800 Excavator


With an operating weight up to 810 tonnes, the R9800 from Liebherr comes with the option of either MTU or Cummins diesel engines, or an electric drive version. The electric version is rated up to 2984 kW / 4000 HP. It’s 42 m3 shovel capacity or 47.5 m# backhoe capacity are designed to pair with the Liebherr T 264 or T 284 dump trucks for maximum efficiency.

5 – Komatsu PC8000-11 Excavator


Weighing up to 773 tonnes, this is the largest excavator in the Japanese manufacturers portfolio. Komatsu’s most frequently used model in the Australian/New Zealand market is the PC200-8 and it weighs over 36 times less than this behemoth. Its twin diesel engines give it a rating to 3000 kW / 4020 HP and it has shovel and backhoe capacity of 42 m3 (designed to integrate with trucks between 240 – 400 tonnes). 

Royal Marines test out jet suit

Jet suit developer Gravity Industries has joined forces with the Royal Marines to test its latest product for maritime boarding operations. The company said it spent three days with 42 Commando Royal Marines off the south coast of the UK. The suit was tested in exercises between two moving vessels as an alternative to boarding via helicopter fast-roping.

The First Cellular Phone, and It was Big!

DynaTAC is a series of cellular telephones manufactured by Motorola, Inc. from 1983 to 1994. The Motorola DynaTAC 8000X commercial portable cellular phone received approval from the U.S. FCC on September 21, 1983. A full charge took roughly 10 hours, and it offered 30 minutes of talk time. It also offered an LED display for dialing or recall of one of 30 phone numbers. It was priced at $3,995 in 1984, its commercial release year, equivalent to $9,831 in 2019. DynaTAC was an abbreviation of “Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage.”  It weighed 1.75 lb., stood 13 in. high.

Several models followed, starting in 1985 with the 8000s, and continuing with periodic updates of increasing frequency until 1993’s Classic II. The DynaTAC was replaced in most roles by the much smaller Motorola MicroTAC when it was first introduced in 1989, and by the time of the Motorola StarTAC’s release in 1996, it was obsolete.

Martin Cooper of Motorola made the first publicized handheld mobile phone call on a prototype DynaTAC model on April 3, 1973. This is a reenactment in 2007.

The first cellular phone was the culmination of efforts begun at Bell Labs, which first proposed the idea of a cellular system in 1947, and continued to petition the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for channels through the 1950s and 1960s, and research conducted at Motorola. In 1960, electrical engineer John F. Mitchell became Motorola’s chief engineer for its mobile communication products. Mitchell oversaw the development and marketing of the first pager to use transistors.

Motorola had long produced mobile telephones for cars that were large and heavy and consumed too much power to allow their use without the automobile’s engine running. Mitchell’s team, which included Martin Cooper, developed portable cellular telephony, and Mitchell was among the Motorola employees granted a patent for this work in 1973; the first call on the prototype was completed, reportedly, to a wrong number.

While Motorola was developing the cellular phone itself, during 1968–1983, Bell Labs worked on the system called AMPS, while others designed cell phones for that and other cellular systems. Martin Cooper, a former general manager for the systems division at Motorola, led a team that produced the DynaTAC 8000x, the first commercially available cellular phone small enough to be easily carried, and made the first phone call from it. Martin Cooper was the first person to make an analog cellular mobile phone call on a prototype in 1973.


The World’s Top Ten Supercomputers

According to a quote with several origins, science advances on the shoulders of giants. In our time, these words have taken on a special meaning thanks to a new class of giants—supercomputers—which nowadays are pushing the boundaries of science to levels that the human intellect would be incapable of reaching on its own.

In a few decades, the strength of these giants has multiplied dramatically: in 1985 the world’s most powerful supercomputer, Cray-2, could process 1.9 billion floating point operations per second (FLOPS), or 1.9 gigaflops, the parameter used to measure the power of these machines. By comparison, a current PlayStation 4 game console reaches 1.84 teraflops, almost a thousand times more. Today, there are at least 500 supercomputers in the world that can exceed a petaflop, or one billion flops, according to the TOP500 list drawn up by experts from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the universities of Mannheim (Germany) and Tennessee (USA).

Below we present what are currently the ten most powerful supercomputers in the world and some of their contributions to knowledge.



The world’s most powerful supercomputer today is Summit, built by IBM for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. It occupies the equivalent of two basketball courts and achieves an impressive 148.6 petaflops thanks to its 2.41 million cores.

El supercomputador Summit es el más potente del mundo en la actualidad. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL
The Summit is the world’s most powerful supercomputer today. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL

In addition to its large capacity, Summit is also the most energy-efficient machine in the top 10 of the world’s supercomputers. Its mission is civil scientific research, and since it came into operation in 2018 it has already participated in projects such as the search for genetic variants in the population related to diseases, the simulation of earthquakes in urban environments, the study of extreme climatic phenomena, the study of materials on an atomic scale and the explosion of supernovae, among others.



IBM is also responsible for the second most powerful supercomputer on the list, Sierra, located in California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Based on Summit-like hardware, Sierra manages 94.6 petaflops.

The Sierra supercomputer  is dedicated to military research. Crédito: LLNL
The Sierra supercomputer is dedicated to military research. Crédito: LLNL

Unlike its older brother, Sierra is dedicated to military research, more specifically to the simulation of nuclear weapons in place of underground tests, so its studies are classified material.



Until Summit and Sierra came into service in 2018, China was at the forefront of global supercomputing with TaihuLight, a machine built by the National Centre for Engineering Research and Parallel Computing Technology and installed at the National Supercomputing Centre in Wuxi. Unlike other machines of its calibre, it lacks accelerator chips, so its 93 petaflops depend on its more than 10 million Chinese Sunway processors.

TaihuLight is installed in the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi. Credit: Nsccwx
TaihuLight is installed in the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi. Credit: Nsccwx

TaihuLight is in a way a product of the trade war between China and the US, since its construction has completely dispensed with US technology, in response to the restrictions imposed by the US. This supercomputer has participated in research such as the simulation of the birth and expansion of the universe using 10 billion digital particles.



China also retains fourth place in the ranking with Tianhe-2A, or Milky Way 2A, developed by the National University of Defence Technology and equipped with Intel Xeon processors that allow it to reach 61.4 petaflops. According to its operators, the machine is use for computing related to government security, among others.

Tianhe-2, in National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou. Credit: O01326
Tianhe-2, in National Supercomputer Center in Guangzhou. Credit: O01326


The Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin has entered the top 10 in global supercomputing thanks to Frontera, a new system built by Dell and equipped by Intel. Frontera was unveiled to the world in September 2019 as the world’s fastest supercomputer located in a university. Since June, it has been collaborating with three dozen scientific teams in research related to the physics of black holes, quantum mechanics, drug design and climate models. Its 23.5 petaflops will be available to the scientific community, which will benefit from its computational capacity especially in the areas of astrophysics, materials science, energy, genomics and the modelling of natural disasters.

The Frontera supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center. Crédit: TACC
The Frontera supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center. Credit: TACC


Europe’s most powerful system ranks sixth on the list. Piz Daint is a supercomputer named after an alpine mountain—whose image is displayed on its housing—located at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre in Lugano. It is an upgrade of a system built by the American company Cray, founded by the father of supercomputing Seymour Cray and responsible for several of the world’s most powerful machines. Its Intel and NVIDIA processors give it a speed of 21.2 petaflops. Piz Daint is involved in extensive research in materials science, physics, geophysics, life sciences, climatology and data science.

Piz Daint is the most powerful system in Europe. Credit: CSCS
Piz Daint is the most powerful system in Europe. Credit: CSCS


Also a product of the Cray company is Trinity, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory system that is able to reach nearly 20.2 petaflops. This machine, which inherited its name from the first U.S. nuclear test in 1945, is mainly devoted to nuclear weapons-related calculations.

Trinity inherited its name from the first U.S. nuclear test. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory
Trinity inherited its name from the first U.S. nuclear test. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory


The 19.9 petaflops of ABCI, a system built by Fujitsu and belonging to Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, place this machine in eighth place in the ranking. One of its most striking features is its energy efficiency, a parameter in which it scores just below Summit. ABCI’s goal is to serve as a cloud-based Artificial Intelligence resource available to Japanese companies and research groups.

ABCI's goal is to serve as a cloud-based Artificial Intelligence resource. Credit: ABCI
ABCI’s goal is to serve as a cloud-based Artificial Intelligence resource. Credit: ABCI


In 2018, the new generation SuperMUC supercomputer officially came into service at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre in Garching, near Munich (Germany). Built by Lenovo with technology from the company and Intel, the most powerful supercomputer in the European Union achieves a processing speed of 19.5 petaflops.

The new generation of the SuperMUC supercomputer came into service in 2018. Credit: lrz
The new generation of the SuperMUC supercomputer came into service in 2018. Credit: lrz


The top 10 closes with Lassen, Sierra’s little brother at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, built by IBM with the same architecture. Its recent improvements have increased its speed to 18.2 petaflops. Unlike its brother, Lassen is dedicated to unclassified research.

Lassen is dedicated to unclassified research. Credit: LLN