Artificially intelligent robots are increasingly becoming a crime-fighting tool for police and other law enforcement authorities. From managing traffic at intersections to diffusing bombs, they are proving as an effective crime-fighting tool that saves both labour and lives.
Even today, when the world is pandemic-stricken, police robots are taking over numerous challenging roles. For instance, in Australia, police officers working at the frontline faced “spitting attacks.” In Singapore, an enforcement officer performing his duty to ensure safe distancing was knifed. And of course, the risk of contracting the virus is more on these frontline workers.
The pandemic is showing that old methods of policing are inadequate. This is increasing the opportunity for police forces to adopt smart policing including AI robots. We are exploring interesting roles of robot police both before and after COVID-19 hit the world.
As Prison Guards
In Pohang, South Korea, a prison introduced its first robotic prison guards as a field trial. These robot guards self-patrol the prison with 3D depth cameras and two-way wireless communication systems. They are integrated with software capable of identifying specific human behaviour patterns. The bots are 5 feet tall with a cycloptic eye that’s 24×7 patrolling the corridors of the prison.
The robot guards were developed by the Asian Forum for Correction at $879,000 per unit. It was in partnership with the Electronics and Telecommunication Research Institute and manufacturer SMEC.
The guard performs patrols on its own by using the guidance from navigation tags located on corridor ceilings. However, one human guard supervises it and may be using an iPad. As soon as the pattern recognition algorithms of behaviour sense trouble, an instant alert is sent to controllers. This helps in emergency situations such as an approaching suicide attempt, assault, or firing.
In a less serious situation, two-way cameras and microphone allow the control centre to communicate directly with restive prisoners. The robot guards are designed without any features that enable physical interaction with prisoners. This addressed the concerns of the possibility of being roughly handled by machines.
As per prison authorities, if the robot guards are effective, they will succeed in cutting labour costs. Moreover, it will also serve the purpose of securing prisoners’ life and safety. And will reduce the workload of human guards in a poor working environment.
As Traffic Police
The traffic at specific locations in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo is being controlled by five robots. They are equipped with cameras and traffic lights to regulate the traffic flow in the sprawling city of nine million. The cameras on their rotating chest capture traffic flow and send real-time images to the police station.
Each robot traffic police is solar-powered and made of aluminium. Their size is so huge that they can tower over the jammed streets as vehicles jostle. The hands of the robots are designed to withstand the year-round hot climate.
According to a taxi driver, some drivers don’t respect the traffic police. But with these giant traffic robots, the case is different. First two were deployed in 2013. And three new robots named Tamuke, Mwaluke and Kisanga were deployed recently at a cost of $27,500 each.
As per Therese Izay, president of Women’s Technology, the new robots are much quicker than older models. And she believes that they will play an instrumental role in tackling traffic jams and violations. Reportedly, traffic-related accidents and deaths have decreased since the deployment of traffic police robots.
As Lifesaving Guard
In Greece, Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard (EMILY) is rescuing people from water-based incidents like running out of fuel.
Emily is a robotic lifesaving guard vehicle invented in 2010 by Tony Mulligan and Bob Lautrup. The bot strives to save lives in water bodies and also aid in search and recovery missions using sonar technology.
During the Syrian refugee crisis, thousands of people sailed from Turkey to Greece in the hope of finding shelter. But as sailing through the Aegean Sea was perilous, often boats capsized and thousands lost their lives. Human lifeguards were unable to reach each person for rescue due to overcrowding. And that is when the Hellenic Coast Guard found EMILY to strengthen life-saving measures.
EMILY is a four-foot remote control floatation vehicle that rescues nearly two people each day. The electric-powered vehicle is made of lightweight fibreglass. It can travel up to 24 mph and move effectively through turbulent waters. After reaching the rescue site, evacuees can hold onto its handles. And human lifeguards onshore control EMILY with a remote.
In addition, EMILY can provide floatation and deliver life jackets. It also has a 2000-foot rescue line to help rescuers pull swimmers to shore. The improved uncrewed vehicle is integrated with thermal cameras to help detect the number of people in the water. Using two EMILYs, Hellenic Coast Guard and Hellenic Red Cross have escorted an estimated 500 refugees to shore.
As Robot Dog During The Pandemic
Singapore is testing a robot dog to ensure safe distancing in parks, gardens and nature reserves. The yellow-colour robot dog is named Spot. It is equipped with safety sensors that detect objects and people in its path.
Spot is deployed over a 3km range in the River Plains region of Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park for two weeks. It is also being trialled at the Changi Exhibition Centre isolation facility to deliver essentials such as medicines to patients.
Spot broadcasts a recorded message to remind park visitors to follow safe distancing. Going further, the robot dog will also have cameras with GovTech-developed video analytics to estimate the number of visitors in parks. These cameras will not have the capability to recognise individuals and no personal data will be captured.
The design of Spot allows it to move across different terrains and navigate obstacles effectively. It has algorithms that detect anything or any person within one metre of its vicinity to avoid contact. It always stays with one officer during this trial period.
If the pilot is successful, Spot will have its duty at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park during the morning and evening peak hours.
What Will Be The Future With Police Robots In Smart Cities?
Imagining smart cities being policed by robots raises concerns from many saying that what if they are like terminator models. Or the one in Robocop. We don’t have an evidence-based answer for the future yet. However, it is, of course, a challenge to use artificially intelligent machines to build a less discriminatory police force.
But if we see from the technological perspective, it is just a tool. It depends on how people use or misuse it just like the internet, for example.
That being said, smart cities need to be careful and fully realise the potential of smart policing. Police forces should examine their operations to include policies that guide the use of robots in frontline duties. Robot police should coordinate with police intelligence units to ensure real-time analytics of the data collected. Police departments should also be aware of the legal and ethical issues that could emerge from human-robot interactions.
Ultimately, we should understand that AI (robot’s brain) only does what we teach it to do. This happens with the combined use of data and training. Hence, if either of these is not right, it will be visible in the decision-making capabilities of AI. Says Neil Sahota, an IMB Master Inventor and UN artificial intelligence Advisor in his article published in Forbes.