History has time and again taught us that, science fiction is only a fantasy until science makes it a reality. In the 1940s Isaac Asimov, a prolific science fiction writer wrote about a future where robots are a part of the human world. Similarly, in a sci-fi film, Robocop made more than 30 years ago, a robot is built-up in order to solve an unprecedented crime problem in dystopian crime-ridden Detroit. Today science fiction has become a reality. Police in different parts of the world are using robots for law enforcement and first, ever robotic police officers have become deployed across China, Dubai and Hyderabad in India.
Dubai Police introduced its first robot police officer on May 24
last year. Wearing a police cap and moving on wheels, the robot features a
computer touch-screen on its chest that can be used to report a crime or inquire about speeding tickets. At 5ft 5in tall and weighing 100 kg, it can speak six languages and is designed to read facial expressions. The UAE has big plans for the future. By 2030 it wants robots to make up 25 per cent of its police force, including fully functioning androids capable of chasing down offenders and making arrests.
Hyderabad has launched the country’s first smart policing robot called the smart Robocop. The robot has capabilities to move, recognise people, take complaints, detect bombs, identify suspects, interact with people and answer to queries. It is equipped with cameras and has an array of sensors connected to GPS in its beta version. It has been developed by H-Bots Robotics, a Hyderabad-based robotics technology company.
In Zhengzhou, China, Police robots that look like armless Daleks roam the high-speed train station, they use facial-recognition software to help officers identify suspects, interact with customers and answer their questions. At Beijing’s Tiananmen Square stun gun-wielding robots patrol crowds of tourists. The robots negotiate their own path along designated routes, and an officer monitoring the bot remotely controls the stun guns.
Kinshasa, the Republic of Congo in the year 2013, in an effort to enforce traffic rules and reduce road accidents, installed giant solar-powered robots, at busy intersections which controls traffic with arms that signal red and green flags and ushers pedestrians safely across roads. The robots are also equipped with surveillance cameras which send footage of reckless driving to the police.
Ford Motors is reported to have filed a patent for a robot-controlled autonomous car that would use artificial intelligence to issue speeding tickets from roadside hiding spots. The robot would be able to detect violations independently on its own or by connecting to the roadside surveillance cameras.
Robots like humans have also perpetrated crimes and have been arrested for committing them. On August 18, 1982, a robot called DC-2 was the first robot ever to be taken into custody by the Beverly Hills Police Department for illegally distributing flyers on North Beverly Drive. In Russia, an activist robot called Promobot was arrested for taking part in a political rally in support of Russian parliamentary candidate Valery Kalachev in Moscow. Conversely, robots have
also helped police in arresting criminals in several instances. In May this
year, a man was arrested in Berlin for allegedly beating up his girlfriend and later firing shots at her vehicle.
Robots can also be a criminal’s best friend, as police in Taiwan discovered in mid-2014 when they attempted to arrest a known armed drug dealer who had tightly protected his home with a series of surveillance robots streaming video, meant to give early warning of police presence. In the near future, robots will be used to assist in bank robberies, street holdups, and even kidnappings. Hackers have already created the R2B2, the Robotic Reconfigurable Button Basher, a machine capable of attempting repeated passwords on locked, lost, or stolen iPhones and Android devices at the rate of one attempt per second.
A national debate was sparked about police use of remote-controlled robots and the legality of their deployment as a delivery mechanism for lethal force, in the United States shortly after the tragic Dallas shooting in July 2016. The standoff between the police and the sniper who was targeting police officers ended after the police used a bomb disposal robot to deliver and detonate explosives where the gunman took shelter. This opened up a Pandora’s box and raised questions of how far robotically controlled force can be taken and whether robots could be armed? Whether we were creating Terminators by doing so? Despite the dystopian furore, several countries have stationed and are continuing to deploy armed robots.
An astounding video was posted on social media by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin in which a gun-toting robot has the ability to fire two pistols simultaneously. At the end of the video Rogozin apologetically professes that Russia is not trying to build a terminator but only trying to train robots that can take decisions in dire circumstances.
A robotic firm in Israel has built a Roomba-like gun-toting robot with a built-in 9 mm Glock pistol called “Dogo”. This small land rover can enter a house quietly, climb stairs, and even manoeuvre over obstacles. Ready with eight cameras and two-way audio, the Dogo allows police to communicate with and fire upon suspects without risking their lives. In the USA, a robotic battalion in North Texas is constantly on standby, ready to combat crime and defuse potentially deadly situations.
The Polish Police recently acquired a reconnaissance robot or a throw robot called Taktyczny Robot Miotany (TRM) which can be tossed or dropped from a height into buildings or spaces. It has the capability to scout the scene with its camera, microphone and various other options. This robot is designed to be accoutred with stun grenades or explosives if need be, which can then be triggered by the control panel used to drive the TRM around just like the Recon Throwbot used frequently by the American cops.
Brazilian police, in order to inspect suspicious packages during the Olympics held in their country,acquired 510 Packbots a military grade bomb detection and reconnaissance robot. Each PackBot 510 weighs around 65 pounds and carries with it four cameras, as well as its main feature, a 6-foot telescoping arm that can lift a 30-pound payload. PackBots are primarily deployed for bomb detection and disposal; it can even use mechanical wire cutters attached to the end of its arm. The PackBot climbs stairs, manoeuvres in water, and can crawl around at about 6 miles per hour, faster than most adults jog.
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorists have turned to robotic VBIEDs (vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices) commonly known as car bombs, to destroy multiple buildings and rock entire neighbourhoods, with some vehicles’ containing up to seven thousand pounds of explosives. VBIEDs are powerful weapons and have destroyed numerous targets around the world, including Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut and the Murah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Let’s say, in the near future you are travelling in your car, you hear the siren and flashing lights of a police car behind you. You pull over to the side, you expect a police man to step out of the car, but realisation soon dawns on you that the car is the police officer. This might seem like a scene from a sci-fi novel or movie, but robotic policing is going to be the new normal sooner than you think. Prior to delegating decisions about the use of force to robots we have to resolve: How much should police delegate decisions about the use of force to robots? How heavily should robots be armed? Under what circumstances should a robot be able to use force?
In the sci-fi film “Robocop” Detroit city is depicted as dystopian and crime -ridden, where a sinister corporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) wins a contract from the city government to privatise the police force. Two executives at OCP look toward high-tech solutions to the crime problem, with an old-school executive developing a robot (ED 209) while an ambitious newcomer develops a cyborg (Robocop) from the remains of a fallen police officer. In a memorable scene, when the armed robot (ED 209) is being tested it fails to recognise the fact that it’s determinate threat has disarmed himself by dropping his gun resulting in the disastrous obliteration of its target, proving a point that putting one’s trust in autonomous armed police robots could prove catastrophic. We must, therefore, realise that one of the greatest gifts a police officer has is his or her faculty to use discretion. Robotisation has its place, but it can never substitute the good judgment, sanity, and compassion found in an officer’s heart and soul.”