You saw her last year dancing around the premises (and probably recording all the actions of residents) of Section 8 Housing, and now she’s strutting her stuff on the runways of Paris Fashion Week! But don’t expect to see her at any chic afterparties—alcohol would destroy her internal lithium-ion battery. Who is she?! Oh just Spot, Boston Dynamics’ robot surveillance dog, which the NYPD itself deemed too controversial to be a part of its ranks.
On Friday, these canine robots, which retail for $74,000, joined models on stage at Coperni’s AW23 fashion show. The brand has made headlines for their innovative and gimmicky incorporation of technology in their shows. (You probably remember Bella Hadid standing posed on the runway as a liquid polymer dress was sprayed onto her body—that was Coperni.)
During the show, the robo-dogs sort of ominously paced the stage as models walked amongst them. But then the two specimens began to interact with each other. Lila Moss (Kate’s daughter) handed one her handbag, and in a dystopian ballet of sorts, model Rianne Van Rompaey and a robo-pup nuzzled cheeks before the robot ripped her black coat off of her.
Arnaud Vaillant, one of the designers behind Coperni, explained to the Guardian that their decision to partner with Boston Dynamics was because they were “the first robot company who signed a charter that they would never give weapons to robots” and “the first who sent robots to Ukraine to clear dangerous bomb sites.” Vaillant added that while he was first disturbed by the robots, he now hopes Coperni’s message shows that “humans and technology can live together in harmony.”
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“Sure,” I type on my computer. Robo-dogs might nobly not be taking up arms (paws?), but just for good measure, they do have a controversial history that does not fall in line with this “peace and love” techno-optimism fantasy Coperni is spinning. In 2020 and for $94,0000, a pupbot was adopted by the NYPD and received such negative backlash from the public the department was basically forced to re-home it within a year.
While a lot of the backlash was concerned with improper allocation of funds (“this is some robo-cop shit” - Rep. Jamaal Bowman), others were still focused on surveillance violations the technology granted. “Now robotic surveillance ground drones are being deployed for testing on low-income communities of color with under-resourced schools,” AOC tweeted. Last summer the Massachusetts state police used the dogs to help “provide video of potentially dangerous situations” before a public event.
All of this is to say that Coperni can choose to put lipstick on a pig and make it strut the runway at Paris Fashion week, but at the end of the day, these pigs (by which I mean robo-dogs) are still cops.