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West Virginia police want a $35,000 robot to assess SWAT situations

West Virginia police want a $35,000 robot to assess SWAT situations

Police in Charleston, W.Va. have received permission from their city council to purchase a robot that will be able to open doors and assess dangerous situations. The robot will cost more than $35,000 and is being funded by a grant from the federal government.

In explaining why his department wants the robot, Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster cited a 2013 incident in which a local attorney repeatedly fired a gun inside his house for several hours. After the attorney accidentally injured himself, the situation was resolved peacefully — sans robot.

Though Charleston police are early adopters of law-enforcement robots, they are not the first department to avail themselves to this technology. The county sheriff's office near Charleston already has a robot that the Charleston police borrow sometimes, and a New York sheriff's department is also getting one.

While reliance on robots for decision-making in dangerous situations raises its own ethical questions, more concerning for civil liberties advocates will be the current development of a more robust police robot that will travel around neighborhoods at night, using cameras, thermal imaging, and recognition of faces and license plates to track and predict crimes.