Africa, it’s time to make the RoboPolice your friend

In the next 20 years, or less, the era of human policing will be over. There have been efforts over time to keep humans out of harm’s way  -from criminality and its consequences. Also, since ancient times, human society has always seen the need to safeguard lives and property as a fundamental truth.

However, times are rapidly changing before our very eyes, just like scenes from a sci-fi movie. The era of robotic policing  has begun, with tech firms outside of Africa launching robots which perform the functions of a beat cop, patrol malls and parking spaces, throw up nets to catch criminals (imagine a spider’s web) and control vehicular traffic. Awesome!

How would you like it, if we interacted with cops who wore head-mounted video cameras to record their interactions with error-prone or crime-inclined humans? The devices would perch above their ‘extra-terrestrial’ ears and would automatically self-activate, whenever they spoke with a crime suspect or someone. Video of such interactions would then be uploaded to a central server.

Do you know an almost-similar device was tested in 2009 in San Jose, California, U.S.A?

Of course it was and I would say it is a welcome development, if you asked me, because lots of people (especially in developing parts of the world), do not trust the police right now.  If you think I am wrong on this one assumption, there is a comments section just beneath this post.

But, okay, let’s go ahead with this robot police (and policing) thing. The device, known as AXON, can also attach to other parts of the body. With this, it is expected that alleged instances of police brutality, extortions and general improper conduct should be curbed to a large extent.

In February 2014, Congo introduced us all to the African version of Robocop, or rather, a Congolese version.  The robots were designed by Women’s Technologies (WOTECH), a Congolese cooperative led by Thérèse Izay Kirongozo, an entrepreneur whose businesses include three restaurants aside from WOTECH. This cop regulates the traffic, gives tickets to cab drivers and traffic offenders. The robot is 100% Congolese and financed by the Women Technology Association. Its name is Robot Roulage, derived from the name given to traffic cops (Policier Roulage); it is 2.5 m tall, and fully autonomous, functioning with solar energy.  Robot Roulage was first installed at the Boulevard Lumumba in Kinshasa. It is interesting to note that Congo had 5 of these humanoid robots regulating traffic in Kinshasa, as at January 2017. Since the launch of the first Robot Roulage, there has been no replication in other African countries and that technology has not scaled as well as it is supposed to. It has been three years.

Therese Izay Kirongozo presenting one of the robots (IMAGE: iese.edu)

Do we really have other African countries setting the pace in Robotics? The answer is No.

One year after, a Mountain View startup founded in 2013 called Knightscope developed a fleet of crime-fighting robots. Knightscope’s K5 security robots resemble a mix between R2D2 and a Dalek from Doctor Who. The system behind these robots which  is a bit Orwellian, have broadcasting and sophisticated monitoring capabilities to keep public spaces in check, as they rove through open areas, halls and corridors for suspicious activity. Today, Knightscope still makes autonomous crime-fighting robots that patrol malls, sports arenas, and the corporate campuses of tech companies like Microsoft, Uber and Juniper Networks. Knightscope rents out the machines for $7 an hour, which is less than one human security guard’s hourly salary.

The units upload what they see to a backend security network, using 360-degree high-definition and low-light infrared cameras and a built-in microphone can be used to communicate with passersby. An audio event detection system can also pick up noise, such as breaking glass and send an alert to the system as well.

While we celebrate the giant strides the world is taking in the world of robotics, there are ventures in Africa that which exist within that same space; Pan-African Robotics Competition (PARC), is one. PARC was founded by Dr. Sidy Ndao, a tireless advocate of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education for the Sustainable Development of Africa.  In May 2016, the first edition of the Pan-African Robotics Competition was organized in Dakar, Senegal with over 200 participants. This was the collective effort of a group of dedicated STEM advocates across the African continent.

Talk about individuals as catalysts in the field of Robotics, I think Africa needs Chinemelu Ezeh. In his first year at the Imperial College, London (ICL), Chinemelu was team leader of a group that designed and constructed a track-competing robot using assembly language. While in his fourth year, he built a robot from scratch to demonstrate a navigation system, for his thesis which was based on the Design and Implementation of Control and Path Planning of Autonomous Vehicles. It centered on Design and Implementation of Control and Path Planning of Autonomous Vehicles. So, shouldn’t Chinemelu be able to make Policebot prototypes too? Just wondering.

More partnerships, encouragement and angel funds should be made available to the likes of Chinemelu to ensure Africa meets up with the technology advancement of which it is in dire need (and, also, is able to produce robots which could make life easier in the continent and are of exportable quality).

Earlier this month, it came to my notice that Dubai had recruited a humanoid Robocop into its police force. It even resembles that movie bot you see in Robocop (the movie), from where the name itself became popular. The city plans to recruit a lot of the bots, so they can eventually make up 25% of the force by 2030. Though the Robocop does not wield any weapon, citizens can ask it questions, pay fines and access a variety of police information via purpose-built software. Its facial recognition technology is only 80% accurate, but the robot’s camera eyes will send live feeds to a command control center for analysis. It even knows how to salute you and is busy patrolling the Dubai Mall, even as you read this.

The idea of a Robocop is not the future. It is NOW. Africa needs to take a share of the robotics market, before it is left behind.

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Chiamaka Akuba40 Posts

<p>Chiamaka Akuba is a graduate of Mass Communication of the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She is passionate about emerging markets and entrepreneurship and is actively working with the industry.<br /> She loves her conversations challenging and can’t help laughing when you call her ‘Honourable Writer of the Federal Republic’. Chiamaka is a Staff Writer at Outrepreneurs.</p>

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