Dutch police introduce 'Robodog' for drugs lab investigations

AMSTERDAM, April 19 (Reuters) - Dutch police have welcomed a new member to their special forces team, a four-legged robot dog named “Spot”.

The robot was used for the first time in March in what police say will be its primary function for now -- entering drugs labs before humans do.

“A drug lab is always risky for us because there are always dangerous substances involved, but also possibly a criminal with a firearm,” said Marjolein Smit, head of the Division for Special Operations.

“So for us it is a great asset that we can now send a robot inside to do that initial observation for us.”

Smit said the Dutch were the first police force in Europe to use Spot, which has been an internet sensation since Boston Dynamics, the company that built it, first showcased it in 2016.

Spot uses cameras and other sensors, and is useful because of its ability to walk through doorways and clear minor obstacles. It is guided by an agent with a remote control.

Handlers say, however, that for drug detection, real sniffer dogs remain superior in most cases.

Smit did not disclose the cost of the Robodog, but said that on an annual basis it would be about the same as employing a human police officer -- roughly 44,000 euros ($53,000) per year.

Future applications for Spot could include entering a crime scene and taking DNA samples before other humans enter the area, Smit said.

Google parent Alphabet sold Boston Dynamics to Softbank in 2017 and South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group bought an 80% stake in December for around $880 million. ($1 = 0.8309 euros) (Reporting by Toby Sterling, editing by Ed Osmond)