March 7, 2023

Case Study: Spot Robot Aids In Hostage Rescue

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On October 25th, 2022, the St. Petersburg Police Department responded to a desperate situation: an armed man had taken a three-year-old hostage in the cab of his pickup truck. Despite the volatile nature of the call and the complex operating environment, officers successfully rescued the child. Out of all the resources involved, one asset performed exceptionally well: the Spot robot by Boston Dynamics.


The department purchased a Spot unit after extensive research, including numerous calls with Boston Dynamics and agencies currently using the robot. According to the officer leading the effort, it was evident from the conversations and demos that Spot was miles ahead of conventional options. Encouraged by the positive impressions and a generous donation from a local benefactor, SPPD purchased a Spot unit with a Ridgeback payload from FLYMOTION.

Spot went to work almost immediately. Shortly after the department unveiled the platform, the robot responded to a barricaded subject call. While its performance during that operation was promising, Spot wouldn't reveal its full potential until another incident late one Tuesday night.

On the evening of October 25th, police responded to the scene where 32-year-old Matthew Perkins had assaulted his girlfriend. The situation grew more serious when Perkins then fled, taking his 3-year-old son with him. A helicopter from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office managed to find the pair and followed them until Perkins crashed his pickup truck at the I-275 overpass on Gandy Blvd.

When officers caught up with the vehicle, they ordered the father to step out, but he refused. Because of the danger posed to the child inside the truck, the vehicle stop quickly turned into a hostage rescue.

According to the responding officers, it was particularly challenging to assess the scene for several reasons. It was dark out and no one had a clear line of sight into the truck. Perkins had also blocked the windows with a blanket. Concern for the child quickly rising, SPPD called the robotics team from its Tactical Services Unit for assistance.


Once on scene, the team's first objective was to see inside the vehicle. When operators maneuvered Spot to the driver’s window to pull the blanket, the suspect fought the robot. An attempt to fly a drone up to the truck also proved unsuccessful; turbulence created by the drone’s rotors made it challenging to hover and see inside. As a last resort, officers used a pike pole to yank the blanket.

The operators then decided to employ Spot for surveillance. Enabled by the camera on Spot's Arm, they could easily look over the window sill for a real-time view inside the cab. Incidentally, the team noticed that the Arm's camera could pivot to provide angles not possible with a drone. As a result, the operators were able to see Perkins lying on the vehicle's floor. 


While they watched the truck, officers made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Perkins. As time went on, medics also grew increasingly concerned with the child’s condition, who appeared unresponsive on Spot’s feed. Prompted by this critical development, commanders ordered the SWAT team to end the standoff and apprehend Perkins. 

The Spot robot proved to be a crucial asset in this phase of the response. From the screenshots of the feed sent to their phones, the SWAT team knew how his body was oriented (which door he was facing, where his hands were, etc.). More importantly, they learned that Perkins had a large pair of scissors in his hand. Once the suspect dropped the scissors, the team rolled in, apprehended him, and rescued the child. No shots were fired during the operation.


Incidents like this one confirm that this robot dog is not some novelty item; for the St. Petersburg Police Department, Spot is a lifesaving asset. The ability to quickly assess a situation in any environment without risking officer safety is crucial, especially during a high-stakes incident. And Spot's abilities go beyond awareness, enabling officers to open doors and manipulate objects, further reducing the danger posed to first responders.

It's for these reasons that many agencies around the country are looking to Spot and FLYMOTION as a way to leverage technology in increasingly-complex scenarios. Acquiring, assembling, and implementing advanced solutions like Spot is a challenging task — and FLYMOTION is here to help! Selected as Boston Dynamics Preferred Public Safety and Government Partner, we'll help you navigate the entire process — from procurement to training — to ensure your team has what it needs for success.

How can your agency operate Spot? Contact us — we're standing by to help!

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