If We Can’t Hold Police Accountable, What Will Happen With RoboCops?

April 15th, 2015 - by admin

Bill Berkowitz / Buzzflash @ Truthout & Jonathan Strickland / How Stuff Works.com – 2015-04-15 23:00:26


If We Can’t Hold Police Accountable,
What Will Happen With RoboCops?

Bill Berkowitz / Buzzflash @ Truthout

(April 13, 2015) — Police departments across the country, already involved in a hyper-militarized frenzy, may soon have another disquieting option at their fingertips; RoboCops. The term RoboCop first came into our collective consciousness with the release of the 1987 science fiction movie of the same name, written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, and directed by Paul Verhoeven.

The action movie revolved around the murder of a police officer who is then revived — with his body replaced by artificial parts. The film’s broad-based dystopian vision included corporate malfeasance, gangsters running amuck, the media, gentrification, authoritarianism, greed, privatization, and capitalism, according to Wikipedia.

The late Roger Ebert called the film “a thriller with a difference.” In 2007, Entertainment Weekly named it the #14 in its list of the greatest action movie of all time. A year later, Empire magazine chose it as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, placing at #404, and The New York Times had it on its list of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made. Last year’s RoboCop remake, while not nearly the critical success of the first film, brought in more that $240 million at the box office worldwide.

Here Comes RoboCop
According to The Free Thought Project’s Justin Gardner, “By 2016, there will likely be a 6-foot tall police robot patrolling the streets and handing out parking tickets. The Telebot, developed by Florida International University’s Discovery Lab, has been field-tested and is undergoing final tune up.”

The Telebot has a “menacing look” to it, designed to “intimidate and display a sense of authority.” But, say project designers, they want the robot to be created so that it doesn’t deter small children from approaching it.

Last year, the Miami New Times reported that Florida International University’s Discovery Lab, led by Jong-Hoon Kim, Nagarajan Prabakar and Sundaraja Sitharama Iyengar, and staffed mostly by undergraduate students, has been working on the project for nearly two years. The project “developed and built a functional, mobile, and interactive robot specially designed to help disabled officers and veterans return to the field.”

“Standing six feet tall and weighing about 80 pounds, TeleBot is equipped with a 360-degree camera that allows it to collect and transmit live data to the controller, or TeleOperator,” Miami New Times‘ Kay Bain reported. “This input is received through an Oculus Rift, a virtual-reality headset that gamers commonly use in their homes.”

The Discovery Lab team has “also developed devices that allow TeleBot to mimic the physical movements of the TeleOperator. Hypothetically, this would help disabled officers get back in the field, but there are still some bugs to work out.”

So what could be better than helping disabled cops get back in the field? What could possibly go wrong?

While the justification for the project seems on the face of it constructive, The Free Thought Project’s Justin Gardner pointed out that “it introduces another level of intimidation to the increasingly militarized police state and brings us one step closer to a dystopian future where autonomous robots carry out law enforcement.”

In a piece on “How Police Robots Work” posted at howstuffworks.com, Jonathan Strickland wrote: “As robots become more agile, we may see an increase of an armed robotic police presence. But even when companies can meet all the technological demands of an autonomous, armed police force, there’ll still be social and political hurdles. What happens if a police robot malfunctions and harms someone, for example?”

The Free Though Project’s Gardner added: “A fully autonomous robot officer is already in the works. The Knightscope K5 does not wield weapons but serves as a total surveillance machine for cops or private clients.

It has facial recognition and scans 1,500 license plates per minute, captures audio and 360-degree video, tests the air for chemicals, and maps its surroundings with 3D radar and laser. It can learn to distinguish ‘suspicious activities’ from normal activities.”

Desert Wolf, a South African-based company, has developed the Skunk Riot Control Copter, which is “designed to ‘control unruly crowds’ by firing up to 20 paintball or pepper spray rounds per minute from each of its four barrels.

It also features strobe lights and lasers to dazzle the would-be protester, and, of course, the full range of surveillance capability to monitor the crowds,” Gardner reported. Still a work in progress, this controversial weapon has not yet made it to the US.

Police departments are, however, purchasing drones. Add patrol robots to that and police departments already operating carte blanche in alienated communities, will be even harder to hold accountable than they already are.

(December 10, 2013) — Meet Valkyrie, NASA JSC’s DARPA Robotics Challenge humanoid robot.

How Police Robots Work
Jonathan Strickland / How Stuff Works.com

Because the majority of police robots are highly mobile and have sophisticated audio and visual systems, police have the option to use them in several situations. The most common use for a police robot is in bomb removal and disposal. While robots are expensive, the cost is small compared to that of human life. Some robots are so tough that they can survive multiple blasts. Still, most of the time the goal is to avoid any sort of explosion at all.

When investigating a potential bomb, police officers use the cameras on the robot to assess the situation. If the robot is able to reach the suspicious device, the operator can use the claw to grip the device, lift it and move it to a cleared location for detonation. In cases where the device isn’t easily accessible or appears to have a triggering mechanism that will activate if the device moves, police may have to detonate the device on-site.

Robots can also be used as a surveillance device. A robot with microphones and night vision can approach a potentially unsafe area while broadcasting information back to the operator. Using a robot can help reduce the time it takes for police to assess a situation, without placing an officer at risk.

By using the two-way audio system, police can communicate with anyone from suspects to hostages. Robots are useful in negotiation situations because unless they’re visibly armed, they’re relatively nonthreatening.

Another benefit is that the robot’s cameras can continue gathering information while police use the audio system to communicate with people in dangerous situations. The police can also use robots to deliver items like food to victims and suspects in hostage situations without risking an officer’s life.

Some robots have sensors that can detect anything from narcotics to biological, radioactive or chemical weapons. Robots help first responders determine how dangerous an area is quickly and safely. Operators can maneuver robots through hazardous environments to find survivors. Some robots are strong enough to drag victims out of lethal situations.

Companies like Remotec and RoboticFX are constantly working to develop new robots for police forces, the military and other organizations that deal with hazardous situations. Newer models have better maneuverability, longer-lasting batteries, arms with more points of articulation and new accessories designed to help officers perform dangerous tasks.

In the future, robots might be more autonomous, eliminating the need for a human operator calling the shots from a command console. As robots become more agile, we may see an increase of an armed robotic police presence.

But even when companies can meet all the technological demands of an autonomous, armed police force, there’ll still be social and political hurdles. What happens if a police robot malfunctions and harms someone, for example? Also, robots are expensive to purchase and maintain and require an officer’s input to function.

But their drawbacks are minor when you consider that robots help keep law enforcement officials safe. For now, police robots are pretty rare — there’s little chance you’ll bump into one the next time you’re at Krispy Kreme — but in a few decades, we might just see a rocket-shaped robot officer on wheels instructing us when to cross the street at the crosswalk.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.