THE ROBOCOPS

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BBC Earth (Asia) - - Front Page - WORDS BY HAYLEY BEN­NETT

“DUBAI, IT SEEMS, IS ON A MIS­SION TO DEHUMANISE ITS PO­LICE SER­VICES. THE CITY’S STREETS WILL BE PA­TROLLED BY THE OR-3 AU­TON­O­MOUS PO­LICE CAR”

1. ROBO ROZZERS

Vis­i­tors to Dubai’s busy shop­ping ar­cades may be sur­prised to find them­selves un­der the pro­tec­tion of a hu­manoid po­lice ro­bot. Though it has no mouth, the ex­pres­sion­less bot (see pre­vi­ous page) com­mu­ni­cates in Ara­bic and English, and helps tourists nav­i­gate the city, as well as con­nect­ing them di­rectly with po­lice ser­vices via a touch­screen.

Dubai’s an­swer to RoboCop dresses and salutes like a po­lice of­fi­cer but is ac­tu­ally from an ex­ist­ing fam­ily of ro­bots known as REEM, built and pro­grammed by the Barcelona-based com­pany PAL Ro­bot­ics. “Cit­i­zens can use the ro­bot to con­tact the Dubai po­lice call cen­tres, speak­ing through the in­te­grated mi­cro­phones, and ac­cess­ing other po­lice-re­lated ser­vices such as pay­ing traf­fic fines. The ro­bot can also re­port any in­ci­dents to a com­mand con­trol cen­tre,” a source at PAL tells us.

REEM ro­bots had al­ready spent a num­ber of years work­ing at public events, so it was just a case of cus­tomis­ing its soft­ware to in­clude po­lice func­tions, PAL says.

The po­lice ver­sion has face recog­ni­tion soft­ware, mean­ing it could po­ten­tially catch a crim­i­nal by mak­ing com­par­isons with the po­lice data­base. PAL hopes that the ro­bots will be­come more ac­cepted as peo­ple get used to see­ing them around, and we might see them fill­ing roles in health­care and hos­pi­tal­ity in the not-so-dis­tant fu­ture.

PAL would not con­firm whether it had any fur­ther ro­bots on or­der for Dubai po­lice, or if it would be up­grad­ing the cur­rent model. How­ever, Saif Salem Juma Ali Alka­abi at the Dubai po­lice told us that “the num­bers of ro­bots will in­crease for sure”. Its Smart Ser­vices de­part­ment pre­vi­ously set a tar­get of re­plac­ing a quar­ter of its on-pa­trol of­fi­cers with ro­bots by 2030. The Dubai gov­ern­ment has also an­nounced plans for a new model that makes the cur­rent of­fi­cer look like lit­tle more than a glo­ri­fied tourist in­for­ma­tion point. RoboCop 2.0 will, ap­par­ently, be able to run at 80km/h (50mph), con­trolled by an on­board hu­man.

2. SELF-DRIVE SUR­VEIL­LANCE

Dubai, it seems, is on a mis­sion to dehumanise its po­lice ser­vices. The city’s streets will also be pa­trolled by the OR-3 au­ton­o­mous po­lice car, the Dubai po­lice force an­nounced last year. At un­der a me­tre high, the OR-3 is too small to take a hu­man pas­sen­ger, but it doesn’t need one. The ve­hi­cle boasts a range of high­tech nav­i­ga­tion and data col­lec­tion

tools: GPS, a laser scan­ner, ther­mal imag­ing and LIDAR – a re­mote­sens­ing method used in sur­vey­ing. It’s de­signed for 360° sur­veil­lance and can track down po­lice sus­pects us­ing its bio­met­ric scan­ners.

Oh, yeah, and who needs po­lice he­li­copters? The OR-3 comes com­plete with a mini-drone that can be launched for aerial sur­veil­lance.

3. SWAT-BOTS

It looks like a tiny tank with a po­lice shield at­tached, and that’s ba­si­cally what it is. The ‘SWAT-Bot’ is de­signed to bat­ter down doors and pro­tect tac­ti­cal teams of up to 12 peo­ple when ap­proach­ing armed sus­pects. It can also be op­er­ated re­motely.

Cre­ated by twin broth­ers, Mike and Geoff Howe of Howe and Howe Tech­nolo­gies, it was de­vel­oped in con­junc­tion with Mas­sachusetts po­lice, although so far there have been no re­ports of the SWAT-Bot be­ing used for any­thing but drills.

4. THE SE­CRET PO­LICE

Another tool for tac­ti­cal teams, the Throw­bot XT is a minia­ture stealth ro­bot that weighs lit­tle more than a rugby ball and can be thrown – lit­er­ally – into any sit­u­a­tion where a hu­man coun­ter­part might at­tract too much at­ten­tion. Once in situ, it can be di­rected to qui­etly sur­vey its sur­round­ings, trans­mit­ting video and au­dio to an op­er­a­tor. Its mak­ers, Min­neapo­lis-based Re­conRobotics, claim that the Throw­bot can see in com­plete dark­ness and can be used to lo­cate hostages and armed sus­pects.

5. SHARP SHOOTER

Rus­sian ro­bot FE­DOR is des­tined for the stars (okay, near-Earth or­bit). The Rus­sian space agency Roscos­mos plans for the ro­bot to pilot the un­manned Fed­er­at­siya space­craft on its first mis­sion in 2021. The bot’s fine mo­tor skills give it the dex­ter­ity to screw in light bulbs and drive cars, but have also led to spec­u­la­tion about other po­ten­tial roles. That’s be­cause in April last year, FE­DOR was filmed be­ing trained to shoot two guns at once, fir­ing dou­ble-handed like a gun­slinger from the Wild West, and both on tar­get.

While Rus­sian of­fi­cials were quick to point out that they are not “cre­at­ing a Ter­mi­na­tor”, some peo­ple have jumped to other con­clu­sions. Mean­while, sci­en­tists at Rus­sia’s Ad­vanced

Re­search Fund, which built FE­DOR in part­ner­ship with An­droid Tech­nics, are also de­vel­op­ing ro­bots to as­sist spe­cial forces in the field. They are work­ing on a pro­to­type for a ro­bot that will “de­liver am­mu­ni­tion to the bat­tle­field, sup­port the sniper, and, if nec­es­sary, help in evac­u­a­tion of the wounded,” the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s deputy head of ro­bot­ics, Alexei Kononov, told the Rus­sian news agency RIA Novosti last Oc­to­ber.

6. THE SE­CRET PO­LICE

A rail­way sta­tion in He­nan prov­ince, China, has its own RoboCop in the form of the E-Pa­trol Ro­bot Sher­iff (top image). Equipped with fa­cial recog­ni­tion soft­ware, it’s de­signed to iden­tify and track crim­i­nals, and also func­tions as an en­vi­ron­men­tal mon­i­tor­ing sta­tion thanks to its air qual­ity and tem­per­a­ture sen­sors. These re­port­edly came in handy on the ro­bot’s first day on the job, when it de­tected a fire. Mean­while, Cal­i­for­nia has been tri­alling ro­botic se­cu­rity guards in shop­ping malls and car parks. The US-made Knightscope K5 (bot­tom image) works like CCTV, trans­mit­ting data to a con­trol cen­tre. Un­de­terred by a col­li­sion with a tod­dler and a self‘drown­ing’ in­ci­dent in a foun­tain, Knightscope re­cently un­veiled K5’s shiny new suc­ces­sor, K7 – a three-me­tre-long buggy that can pa­trol on grass or sand.

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