Law enforcement agencies have used robots for many years for functions such as remotely disarming bombs. But Spot’s superior mobility and ease of use have led public safety officials to expand the number of ways they’re relying on robots to keep people safe. Today Spot is searching disaster sites for survivors, helping law enforcement officers to resolve hostage situations, assisting with drug lab investigations, and even conducting structural surveys after fires.

“Unlike tracked or wheeled robots, Spot can handle nearly any terrain,” Shaun Ray, government sales manager for Spot at Boston Dynamics notes. “It’s simple enough to use that a five-year-old could drive it up a flight of stairs. Because Spot can get where it needs to go so much faster and so much easier than other robots, it really reduces response time for public safety agencies.”

Responding to Hazardous Situations

In April 2023, a parking garage collapsed in Manhattan, killing the garage’s manager and injuring five others. New York City firefighters were able to pull the victims from the wreckage, but the department deemed the facility “very unstable.” Searching for any additional wounded people—or even simply surveying the damage—could have put firefighters at great risk. Instead, the FDNY sent in Spot to walk the site and record video footage, which was then streamed back to fire officials in real time.

Mayor Eric Adams credited Spot with keeping citizens and public safety officials safe. “Thank God we had the robotic dog that was able to go in the building,” he said at the time of the incident. 

In addition to game-changing mobility, Spot has a number of distinguishing features and capabilities that make it uniquely qualified to explore disaster sites and other hazardous settings. While most robots have only front-facing cameras, the Spot CAM+IR provides a 360-degree view of Spot’s environment, displayed in real time on a tablet. Operators can pan, tilt, and zoom the camera to get up to 30x magnification of any angle, and the high-resolution thermal imaging capabilities allow rescuers to search for people who are trapped or objects that are radiating heat—even if Spot’s surroundings are obscured by smoke.

Most robots have only basic grippers (if any at all), while Spot’s integrated arm and gripper can lift and carry objects up to 15 pounds and drag objects up to 50 pounds. Spot’s public safety payload also includes a speaker and microphones to establish two-way communication during search and rescue missions. And, if Spot falls, operators can automatically get the robot up and running again by tapping a “self-right” button on their tablet.

Spot has also helped German fire and police officials to investigate the ruins after a major fire in Essen. The robot is equipped to investigate a number of potentially hazardous sites other than unstable structures, too. Dutch police are using Spot to assist with drug lab investigations, and the robot can be equipped with integrated sensors for chemical, biological, radiological, or explosive detection—allowing public safety officials to create maps of danger zones and collect site samples.

Investigating Suspicious Packages

Although robots have assisted law enforcement agencies with investigating and neutralizing suspicious packages for years, this has historically been a slow process. As a result, roads, transit systems, airports, and schools might be shut down for hours—often for false alarms.

By contrast, public safety officers can typically get Spot on the scene and up and running within minutes, helping them resolve suspicious package situations quicker while minimizing  disruptions to the public.

“If there’s a suspicious backpack lying in a subway car, five years ago, you would have had to get a tracked or a wheeled robot to the scene, which takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour just to get the robot in place,” says Ray. “Now, these same departments have Spot, and the robot is there and ready to go in three minutes. And Spot can get there on its own, meaning that officers don’t need to go near an unknown package and put themselves at risk.”

In Western Australia, police recently introduced Spot to help respond to high-risk situations such as bomb scares and terrorist threats as part of the tactical response group—the police organization’s most specialized unit. “The most valuable asset when dealing with a bomb or any explosive device are the people,” said Police Minister Paul Papalia when Spot was rolled out. “Anything we can do to protect them and get them further away from danger and explosive devices is a good thing. I was a bomb tech, so I know what these guys have in terms of capability, and it far exceeds anything that I was able to benefit from.”

“Technological advancements like Spot enable us to resolve dangerous situations quickly and safely. After assessment and approval to deploy the robot, Spot can quickly remove the weapon from the scene, and deescalates the potential of responders being involved in an armed encounter.”

LAPD Deputy Chief Kowalski

Engaging with Dangerous Suspects

Spot doesn’t just keep law enforcement officers safe; it also prevents situations from escalating in ways that could put bystanders or suspects in danger. Recently, the Los Angeles Police Department deployed Spot in response to reports of a man with a gun on a metro bus. With other passengers safely cleared and the subject still on-board, officers sent in Spot to get a better understanding of the situation – and retrieve the man’s weapon safely. The subject then surrendered to officers without further incident.

“Technological advancements like Spot enable us to resolve dangerous situations quickly and safely,” says LAPD Deputy Chief Kowalski. “After assessment and approval to deploy the robot, Spot can quickly remove the weapon from the scene, and deescalates the potential of responders being involved in an armed encounter.”

Spot has also proven extremely valuable in hostage situations, which are, of course, inherently volatile and present a real risk of imminent danger. The robot gives public safety officials a way to obtain up-close visuals of these situations, without putting officers at risk or creating alarm in suspects and causing them to panic.

In March of 2024, the Massachusetts State Police deployed Spot to locate an barricaded suspect during a seven-hour standoff. The suspect fired at both responding officers and at Spot, partially disabling the robot. Officers were ultimately able to safely arrest the suspect.

In 2022, Spot assisted the St. Petersburg Police Department as officers responded to a situation where a man was holding his three-year-old son hostage in the cab of a pickup truck. Initially, the man refused to step out of the truck when ordered to do so, and police felt that they could not immediately approach the vehicle to make an arrest, due to the danger posed to the child. Officers had difficulty assessing the scene, as it was dark out, and the man blocked the truck’s windows with blankets. 

After Spot arrived on the scene, operators used the camera on the robot’s arm to look inside the window. Medics watching the video feed became worried about the condition of the child, who appeared non-responsive, and commanders ordered the SWAT team to end the standoff and apprehend the suspect. From Spot’s video feed, officers knew that the suspect was armed with a pair of scissors, and also knew which door he was facing. As soon as the man dropped the scissors, the team moved in, rescued the child, and made the arrest—without ever firing a shot.

Contributing to a Safer Tomorrow

These stories illustrate just a few of the ways that public safety agencies around the world are using Spot to address dangerous situations. The robot is also being used by SWAT teams and bomb squads in Houston, Massachusetts, Tampa, and Miami. Spot is inspecting the Paris subway system at night, performing perimeter security at logistics hubs, and inspecting underground tunnels dug by thieves at the Pompeii archeological site.

Over time, Ray expects police and rescue workers to continue developing more ways to use the robot to keep public safety workers and citizens safe. “If there’s a person that might be placed in harm’s way,” he says, “and the robot can do the job instead, then the robot is going to do it.”