In this day and age, it’s not unusual to have cameras recording cars at an intersection. It is unusual that the cameras are “hidden” inside a giant, larger-than-life robotic policeman.
To control traffic flow and congestion in Kinshasa, the largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, police have recently deployed a giant police robot with four cameras and revolving traffic light arms in the middle of a busy intersection. The robot even has the same trademark sunglasses that Kinshasa police usually wear.
“Our robot is a humanoid,” Isaie Therese, the traffic robot’s inventor, told CCTV Africa in an interview you can watch in the video below. “It’s a design quality that copies the style of a real policeman.”
The robot, created by a group of engineers at the Kinshasa Advanced Institute of Applied Techniques, transmits the camera feeds to a center where traffic infractions can be analyzed. As the designers note, giving more traffic tickets serves a dual purpose: It is already helping to cut down on congestion and chaos on the road, but it also helps the city to raise more revenue to fund and build more road and safety infrastructure.
Drivers, however, have mixed reactions. Some like it because the machines are doing a better job than traffic cops at easing traffic–people are obeying them. Others worry that no one will be around the respond to serious violations immediately, such as an car accident. “If a driver says it is not going to respect the robot because it is just a machine…there will be a ticket for him,” Therese told CCTV Africa.
The robot also poses interesting questions about interaction design. As robots become more capable of interacting with humans and doing everyday tasks, there’s a flurry debate and research in the robotics community over what robots should look like. One school of thought is that a “humanoid” design, a la Rosie from the Jetsons, is more friendly and easier to interact with. Others say that a robot that looks too much like a human, but doesn’t have sufficiently advanced intelligence or locomotion capabilities can be creepy and even dangerous. It’ll be interesting to see how this debate plays out in non-Western societies.