DHS Prepping Robot Dogs For Border Patrol, That Should Be Just Fine
A Ghost Robotics robot being tested by DHS in Virginia. DHS photo.

Just in case you haven't had trouble sleeping lately, the Department of Homeland Security has some brand new Nightmare Fuel for you, in the form of hundred-pound 'robot dogs' that it expects to eventually deploy at the US-Mexico border, to help the Border Patrol do important Border Patrolling. It's time for BorderBots!

DHS's announced the development of the killer robots "Automated Ground Surveillance Vehicles" (ASGVs) yesterday in a disturbingly chirpy press release that was full of fun references to friendly doggos, perhaps to offset any qualms readers might have about four-legged Terminator units being used in law enforcement roles. You were bothered by the video of Border Patrol agents on horseback whipping Haitian migrants with their reins? No worries! Now you can replace that mental image with that one episode of "Black Mirror" we keep meaning to watch.


The DHS press release didn't say whether its robot dogs would be able to wield kitchen knives. Probably not in the initial release, but you never know what sort of upgrades may be developed.

The agency pointed out that the American Southwest is full of potential dangers for border patrollers, like harsh terrain, extreme temperatures, and "various other non-environmental threats" — by which we assume they mean brown people. Thank goodness DHS's Science and Technology Directorate is working on bringing US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) a "helping hand (or 'paw')" to keep agents safe and "enhance the capabilities of CPB personnel."

DHS's Mad Scientist Directorate is excited about

supplementing CBP’s bipedal human personnel with quadruped mechanical reinforcements to help the agency better allocate resources. In this case, Man’s best friend comes with a very futuristic twist.

Isn't that sweet? So yeah, robot dogs, because as DHS Science & Technology program manager Brenda Long explains, "The southern border can be an inhospitable place for man and beast, and that is exactly why a machine may excel there." Go ahead and read that in the voice of Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove if you'd like.

The four-legged drones are being developed by DHS and the company "Ghost Robotics," which builds robots for military and law enforcement. Despite the similar appearance, these robots are different from the "Spot" robot dog made by Boston Dynamics that you've seen dancing in cute videos. Boston Dynamics sees a law enforcement role for its robots, like bomb squads, but prohibits their being used as weapons platforms. Ghost Robotics mounted a gun on one of its robots to show it could be done.

From the press release, and holy shit, again with the "just like dogs" language, jebus:

According to Gavin Kenneally, the chief product officer at Ghost Robotics, their 100-pound robot dog was bred for exactly the type of work that CBP needs done, “It is a rugged, quadruped robot. It traverses all types of natural terrain including sand, rocks, and hills, as well as human-built environments, like stairs. That’s why you want legs, and not tracks.”

Bred. Uh-huh, sure.

But the thing about stairs is a good point, as fans of RoboCop and Doctor Who will recall. Your deathbots are of little use if they can't handle stairs, although as of yet we're pretty sure the DHS prototype ASGVs can't levitate.

The DHS press release soon enough shifts from the doggy talk to emphasizing the great dangers faced by Border Patrol officers in "the harsh border zones," because you never know when CBP agents will need to get a lot more tactical than their primary duties of running ports of entry and arresting undocumented migrants. It's really an impressive collection of Warrior Cop talk:

“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, WMD,” explained Agent Brett Becker of the CBP Innovation Team (INVNT). “These activities can be conducted by anyone from just a lone individual, all the way up to transnational criminal organizations, terrorists or hostile governments—and everything in between.”

Becker elaborated on the perils by adding, “Operating out in the desert or mountains, agents and officers have to contend with the rugged terrain, high heat and humidity, and then, of course, they can come across those who wish to do harm. But there are plenty of risks closer to home, too. For instance, when missions take Border Patrol Tactical Operators into towns, cities, or ports, they can encounter hazardous environmental conditions, volatile individuals, or hostile threats. These situations can all be inherently dangerous.”

Ergo, DHS needs robot dogs. But don't get all paranoid about Skynet coming after you (or Central American families seeking to escape death in their home countries) with shiny laser-shooting Hunter-Killer Units! CBP is more interested in having robots that can carry gear, cameras, night vision equipment, or other non-shooty payloads. They could be used with a package of video cameras and cool high tech sensors ("chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, etc"), to assess whether a place is safe to enter. Good boy, Cambot 3.0!

Photo: Ghost Robotics

DHS has been testing the dogbots in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings, to see how they hold up on a proving ground and whether their batteries will hold up in various environments. And while they're mostly meant to be operated remotely by someone using a handheld radio control unit or laptop, they also apparently have a (so-far) limited ability to operate autonomously:

Later, in a desert area, the dogs were programed to go on simulated sentry duty. Under this autonomous mode setting, the AGSVs headed out and made turns when they reached pre-determined GPS waypoints. After completing their circuit, they returned to base. This was done in the daylight, as well as at night.

Additional testing included putting the dogs through the paces of simulated inspections outside, inside, and under train cars at railyards.

And yes, the dog talk continues, with mentions of the "battery-powered pooch," a "robot 'Fido,'" and the potential for the machines to become "a CBP agent or officer’s best friend."

The press release offers a rosy picture of the BorderBots "walking side-by-side with CBP personnel” in the very near future, but doesn't include any specifics about a possible timeline, to say nothing of whether there's actually any funding to take the scheme beyond the R&D stage. Still, it's very shiny exciting tech, so we can probably expect the bots to eventually get actual field trials.

The future is here, and before you know it, we'll be enjoying leaked videos of CBP agents pounding on the damn things and demanding they just start. And then when the bugs are worked out, we'll see about equipping them with guns, maybe.

[DHS / Border Report / Engadget]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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