Every police officer you’ve ever encountered has been a living, breathing human, but that might change if you take a trip to Dubai in the future. The oil-rich city is set to deploy its first robotic cop on May 24th. This may only be the first step, though. Dubai’s police chief has made it clear he would like to see robots make up 25 percent of the total police force by 2030. It’s not just warehouse workers and truck drivers who have to worry about automation anymore. Those of us being policed by robots may have reason to fret, too.
This robot looks very humanoid from the waist up — it has two arms that end in articulating fingers, a head, and two eyes. Although, those are actually cameras that can scan a crowd for wanted individuals using facial recognition technology. It even has a hat. The bottom half is where the limits of current technology become obvious. Instead of legs, the Dubai robot cop has wheels. Robotics firms like Boston Dynamics have demoed robots that can walk and run, but those technologies are still experimental, expensive, and inefficient. Many of Boston Dynamics’ robots need to be tethered to a power source.
The Dubai police want to have this automaton out in public, where it will serve mainly as a community robot. It’s not equipped to chase down suspects, but people will be able to use it to report crimes, pay fines, and ask questions. If the robot’s sensors detect someone in a crowd who is wanted by the police, it can stream video directly to officers who then do all the leg work.
Police in Dubai have long been criticized for the zeal with which they enforce the draconian laws of the United Arab Emirates. The possession of certain medications, worker organizing, and sex outside marriage are all illegal in the UAE. The new robotic cop might not be able to arrest anyone (yet), but it can make it easier for police to spot those who may run afoul of the country’s laws.
This first robot will only be able to carry out simple orders when deployed this month. That could change as more robots are added to Dubai’s police force, and they intend to add a lot of them. That leads to the question of what level of force is appropriate when a machine can’t truly make decisions or gauge a situation. Even humans with the ability to improvise and read body language can make mistakes that escalate a situation, sometimes resulting in injury or death. Robots could make many more mistakes, especially when programmed to uphold stringent laws.
Police plan to have the robot patrol “high-density” areas of the city. While this robot will simply scan crowds, shake hands, and accept payments, future police robots in the UAE might not be so friendly.