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'I'd buy that for a dirham': Dubai deploys its RoboCop

Dubai police have deployed their first robotic officer as part of a long-term plan to automatize a large percentage of patrols. The deputy droid can apparently identify wanted criminals and collect evidence.

Dubai's police department deployed its first robotic officer. Should the computerized cop perform as well as its organic equivalents, the department could assign a quarter of its patrolling duties to robots by 2030.

Clad in the uniform of Dubai's police department - right up to the cap - the human-size robot is difficult to distinguish from its peers and can even perform the same salutes. The cyborg represents the latest step in the government's plan to use technology to improve services and security before the city hosts Expo 2020.

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"These kind of robots can work 24/7," Brigadier Khalid Nasser al-Razzooqi, director-general of the Smart Services Department at Dubai Police, said on Thursday, using arguments common among advocates of automatons. "They won't ask you for leave, sick leave or maternity leave. It can work around the clock."

Dubai police are no strangers to high-tech high-cash flash. Lamborghinis and Ferraris already patrol roads of the affluent Arab emirate. However, deploying the first automated policeman in the Middle East, a robot on wheels equipped with cameras and facial recognition software, take that to a whole new level.

As law enforcement falls under scrutiny in Germany,  the the United States and elsewhere, cities have sought new ways to reduce the unrest caused by police violence and a growing mistrust of officers. And robots are increasingly being assigned to human tasks.

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Dubai's cyborg constable can read license plates, compare faces against a police database and flag matches to headquarters. Its video feed can help police watch for risks such as unattended bags in popular areas of Dubai, a financial and tourism hub that attracted nearly 15 million tourists in 2016.

"We now see the new generations who are using smart devices," Brigadier Razzooqi said on Thursday. "They love to use these kind of tools. A lot of them have seen the RoboCop movie, and they said: 'You guys, you have done it.'"

Razzooqi was referring to a 1987 film set in a dystopian Detroit where unions have been gutted and automation is presented as the way of the future. 

Now, the people of Dubai can report crimes, either verbally or through a touch-screen computer in the man-machine's digital chest. Razzooqi said the robotic officer would help police "find a new way to deal with people" and even acknowledged that some people prefer talking to the cyborg over living, breathing, eye contact-making cops.

Dubai Police haven't disclosed the cost of their automated officer.

mkg/rt (Reuters, AFP)

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