Robocop might come from Hollywood but the world’s first robotically enhanced police officer – either using a real human brain or AI (artificial intelligence) – could be years away. But China, not the U.S., isn’t about to wait for that day. As competition grows toward embracing AI for the future, China has just deployed Robocop to handle crowds.
In an experiment, robotic police were being used to control holiday crowds for the first time in Beijing. The robots were spotted carrying their duties this week outside the National Museum next to Tiananmen Square. However, the made-in-China Robocops are nothing like the humanoid android seen in the American sci-fi film Robocop.
Instead, the Chinese Robocop looks quite similar to AnBot, developed and introduced by the China’s National Defence University earlier in 2016. AnBot was then the first security robot to roam the halls of China’s Shenzhen airport. The machine was subsequently deployed to help assist passengers passing through the Zhengzhou East Railway Station early this year.
Some say they look more like a vacuum cleaner than a Robocop, but the machines were equipped with state-of-the-art facial recognition software. If the “police” insignia wasn’t enough to intimidate crowds, perhaps its terrifying dystopian male voice would. Compared to the more friendly looking versions used at airports, the robots deployed outside the National Museum were quite serious about keeping orders.
Some onlookers were taken aback and felt quite intimidated as the Robocops asked the people to “please queue in an orderly fashion and cooperate with security inspections” and “please produce your identification documents and do not push or shove”. Apparently, China wanted to reduce the number of real police officers on jobs such as crowd control.
The 4ft 9in robot has four high-definition digital cameras, similar to the AnBot, which can sense danger – as well as an extendable electroshock arm. The robots used by China major airports could respond to questions, scan, as well as identify faces, and if deemed necessary, pass these images on to security, not to mention keeping track of air quality and changes in temperature.
The Robocop could travel at 18 kilometres per hour (11 mph) and was also equipped with sensors that can detect explosives, drugs and weapons. If a need arises, with an order from a remote human controller, the droids could even taser people. Chinese military researchers at the National University of Defence Technology said Robocops would eventually patrol more public places such as banks and schools.
They believe the market for police robots is still at its infancy, but it could easily exceed 10 billion Yuan (US$1.52 billion; £1.15 billion; RM6.4 billion). The challenge is to bring the cost of each robot to below 100,000 Yuan (US$15,192; £11,509, RM64,054). Still, Robocops are not here to replace human police entirely simply because they can’t, at least not now.
Unlike humanoid Robocop in the American film, China’s Robocop can easily be defeated – push it over onto its side or spray its camera with paint would do the trick. But with one or two human police armed with machine guns together with a Rottweiler working alongside a dozen of Robocops, you might want to think twice about bullying the machines.