Meet the newest member of the Dubai Police: yes, it's a robot

Wed, 2017-05-24 15:21 -- Doug Peeples

Photo credit: Dubai Police

The city of Dubai is roughly 10 years into an ambitious smart city strategy, one that focuses on making the city an "innovation benchmark" for other cities that want to be sustainable and globally competitive. And that includes the city's law enforcement agency, Dubai Police. As part of its goal to make "everything smart" the agency has introduced an intelligent robotic police officer – which they refer to as "Robocop" after the popular RoboCop series of movies.

The introduction of the Robocop has attracted a lot of attention and some of it not at all positive with headlines declaring police will soon be replaced by robots and other concerns. But for now Robocop isn't chasing criminals and isn't armed. It's primarily being introduced as a helpful tool for citizens and tourists – and getting acquainted with the public. Here’s one takeaway: Dubai's Robocop 'soft launch' will familiarize citizens and tourists with the technology. That may be an approach worth considering for other cities wanting to introduce innovative technologies and minimize the risk of a negative response from citizens. It's an interesting story and worth following for that reason alone. — Doug Peeples

Dubai's Robocop isn't a fully functional police officer in the traditional sense. It's more like a helpful mall cop intended to interact with citizens and tourists at this point. More functionality is expected to come later.

But it is operational and Dubai Police says it’s the first of its kind. Robocop is five-and-a-half feet tall and has a number of skills. It can speak in Arabic and English. It's equipped with an emotion detector and facial recognition capabilities that allow it to read emotions and facial expressions – and can alter its expressions and greetings to respond appropriately. That facial recognition software and IoT connectivity  also enables Robocop to identify offenders and send live video of them to the police command room. Its body has a tablet mounted on it people can use to report crimes, pay fines and send messages to the police department.

"With an aim to assist and help people in the malls or on the streets, the Robocop is the latest smart addition to the force and has been designed to help us fight crime, keep the city safe and improve happiness levels," Dubai Police Brigadier Khalid Nasser Al Razouqi was quoted as saying in a Gulf News article. He is the general director of the Smart Services Department for Dubai Police. The comment about  "happiness levels" was a reference to the city's Happiness Agenda, a program intended to encourage citizens, businesses and city leaders to make happiness a priority.

Robocop was developed by Spain-based PAL Robotics and is said to include capabilities provided by Google and Council Lead Partner IBM's Watson supercomputer. Al Razouqi said its introduction "… is a significant milestone for the emirate and a step towards realizing Dubai's vision to be a global leader in smart cities technology adoption.

"We are looking to make everything smart in Dubai Police. We are aiming to implement many smart police mechanisms, including the smart police station and robots, and adopt artificial intelligence. He has many skills including the capability to map the insides of a building and navigate its path automatically via its self-control and drive feature."

And there are plans for more Robocops. Dubai Police says it wants about 25% of its police force to be robotic by 2030, and that those autonomous robots will be able to chase offenders and make arrests.

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.