11 Police Robots Patrolling Around the World

LAW ENFORCEMENT ACROSS the globe use semi-autonomous technology to do what humans find too dangerous, boring, or just can’t. This week, the Cleveland Police had a few nonlethal ones on hand at the Republican National Convention. But even those can be outfitted to kill, as we saw in Dallas earlier this month when police strapped a bomb to an explosive-detonation robot, and boom: a non-lethal robot became a killer. If that thought scares you, you’re not alone. Human rights activists worry these robots lack social awareness crucial to decision-making. “For example, during mass protests in Egypt in January 2011 the army refused to fire on protesters, an action that required innate human compassion and respect for the rule of law,” said Rasha Abdul Rahim of Amnesty International in a statement last year arguing that the UN should ban killer robots. More than a thousand robotics experts, including Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, signed a letter last summer warning against machines that can select targets without human control. We wanted to find out just how many of these things are in use around the world. But law enforcement isn’t exactly forthcoming about the topic, so this list is not exhaustive. Here’s what we found.




With the Republican National Convention underway, Cleveland police have enlisted the help of a new robot named Griffin, built by students from the local community college. Standing only 12 inches tall, the six-wheeled rover is designed to go places police can’t fit, like under a car or behind dumpsters to look for explosives. Griffin is equipped with a camera and light, which allows police to scope out the situation from a monitor at a safe distance. Unlike the larger bomb squad and military grade robots, like the one police strapped an explosive to in Dallas, Griffin is light enough to be deployed quickly without needing to be hauled out in a big truck. And it’s one of many robots Ohio police have on hand. Public records requests show Ohio law enforcement have received 40 robots from the federal 1033 program that transfers military equipment to local law enforcement.

India’s Riot-Control Drones
Police in the Uttar Pradesh region of India last year purchased a set of Skunk drones built to shower crowds with pepper spray and paintballs. The drone, manufactured by South African firm Desert Wolf, can hover mid-air over a protest and fire up to 20 paintballs (or other “non-lethal” ammunition) per second while simultaneously dispersing tear gas pellets onto people. Police control the drone from the ground, which levitates via eight motors that each power a 16-inch propeller. It’s outfitted with onboard speakers so authorities can communicate with crowds, as well as bright strobe lights and “eye safe” lasers to disorient and disperse a gathering. And of course, no drone is complete without surveillance capability. The Skunk comes packed with a thermal camera, an HD camera, and an onboard microphone, you know, to give the cops something to watch later.

South Korea's Prison Robo-Guards
Correctional officers at Pohang prison in South Korea had robot to help keep watch for them, during a trial in 2012.  Standing 5-feet tall, the Robo-Guard is equipped with 3D cameras and software to recognize inmate behavior. The robot’s makers say it’s able to report when something seems abnormal, like if there’s a fight or an inmate on the floor. The human in the control center can communicate with prisoners via the robot’s two-way radios. It’s unclear whether the robots were put into full-time use in South Korea after the tests, though recent reports indicate South Korea is now building robo-guards to keep patrol during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Isreal's Deadly Rover
This 26-pound, eleven 11-inch-tall robot is packing a 9mm Glock pistol. Designed by Israeli firm General Robotics Ltd with help from the Israeli Police Counter Terrorism Unit, the Dogo can fire up to five rounds in two seconds. This small land rover can enter a house quietly, climb stairs, and even maneuver over obstacles. Ready with eight cameras and two-way audio, the Dogo allows police to communicate with  and fire upon suspects without risking their lives, according to the company’s website.  If law enforcement aren’t looking to kill, the Dogo can also carry pepper spray or a dazzling light module to cause temporary blindness.

LAPD’s Huge Smasher
The Bat Cat—shorthand for Bomb Assault Tactical Control Assessment Tool—is the Los Angeles Police Department’s radio-controlled monster. Designed to pick up a car bomb with its massive, 50-foot telescoping arm, this unmanned ground vehicle reaches top speed at six miles per hour. While it might have been designed to remove massive explosives, the Bat Cat can also rip through a house in minutes, according to The Los Angeles Times,which reported that the LAPD used it to tear down the walls of a home during a standoff in 2011. Cops can switch out the end of the telescoping arm with a claw, a bucket, a forklift, or battering rams, and it can handle a payload of around 12,000 pounds, more than enough to haul your typical car bomb far from harm’s way. The Bat Cat was constructed on the chassis of a Caterpillar Telehandler, so it’s basically just pimped out remote-controlled forklift. Still, best to keep your distance.

Japan's Drone-Catching Drone
This is meta. Japanese police are using drones to take down drones, but they’re not shooting them. That would cause debris. Instead police are using a net. Japanese police introduced a net-wielding drone fleet earlier this year to catch suspicious looking small unmanned aircrafts that fly over sensitive government locations like butterflies. It takes a giant net to catch a drone, and the police fleet is equipped with a 6.5-foot-by-10-foot lattice. Last, year, the BBC reported that police deployed the net drones  in response to a drone carrying a non-harmful amount of radioactive sand that landed on the roof of the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s house—a stunt that turned out to be a protest by an anti-nuclear activist. Japan’s drone-catching drone certainly seems a lot safer than the Dutch National Police Force’s solution—they trained eagles to take down unauthorized drones.

Brazil’s Olympic Peacekeepers
The Olympics are in less than a month, and Motherboard reports that Brazilian police forces are pulling out all the stops, including calling on a number of model 510 PackBots that were originally acquired in preparation for the World Cup, a military grade bomb detection and reconnaissance robot that was used after the Fukushima meltdown in Japan and was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each PackBot 510 weighs around 65 pounds and carries with it four cameras, as well as its main feature, a 6-foot telescoping arm that can lift a 30-pound payload. PackBots are primarily deployed for bomb detection and disposal; it can even use mechanical wire cutters attached to the end of its arm. The PackBot climbs stairs, maneuvers in water, and can crawl around at about 6 miles per hour, faster than most adults jog. With millions of people coming to town for the Olympics, Brazilian police will use the technology to inspect suspicious packages.

Democratic Republic of Congo's Traffic Robocops
In Kinshasa, the sprawling capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo,  The Guardian reports that city officials installed a handful of giant solar-powered robot traffic cops in 2013 in an effort to reduce deaths and get more people to follow traffic rules. Decked out in cool sunglasses, the massive humanoid robots stand at busy intersections as kind of an all-in-one traffic light/crosswalk/traffic camera. The robots direct traffic with arms that signal red and green flags, and usher pedestrians safely across wide, busy roads. The humanoids were designed by Women’s Technology, an association of female and male engineers in the DRC, and, like every police robot on this list, are installed with surveillance cameras. Theirs send footage back to police in an effort to deter dangerous driving.



Poland’s Tactical Bot
Polish police recently got their hands on a new reconnaissance robot to toss around. The Tactical Throw Robot, directly translated from Taktyczny Robot Miotany or TRM, is  meant to be literally tossed into buildings or dropped from up high to scout the scene with its camera, microphone, and various illumination options. This ultradurable robot is also ultralight; weighing less than four pounds, police can throw it into second story windows without any mechanical propulsion. The device is similar to Recon Throwbot used frequently by American cops, and is designed to be outfitted with stun grenades or explosives if need, which can then be triggered by the control panel used to drive the TRM around.

Border patrol between South and North Korea
The “demilitarized” zone between South and North Korea is paradoxically one of the most militarized places in the world, including South Korea’s fleet of semi-autonomous killing machines that patrol the border day and night. Developed by Samsung, the SRG-A1 is armed with a 5.5mm machine gun and grenade launcher that can detect targets two miles away with its sensitive heat and motion sensors, as well as low-light cameras for patrolling at night. Multiple reports indicate that the SRG-1 has a fully autonomous function, too.



A Life-Saving Robot For Refugees in Greece
The coast guard in Lesvos, Greece recently started deploying a robotic life-preserver to rescue Syrian refugees making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Refugee’s boats are often underpowered, overloaded,  and don’t have enough life jackets. Everyday authorities scramble to  save people from boats that have capsized, run out of fuel, or wrecked in the rough waters. The robot helping them is named Emily, an acronym for  Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard, and is a project by researchers at Texas A&M University. Emily is a floatation device that zooms across the water at 20 miles per hour tethered to a 2,000 ft. rope attached to a rescue ship. Emily makes fetching people who aren’t drowning faster, leaving the human rescue team free time to rescue victims who need more help.

By April Glaser  07.24.16  7:00am