The things my students take for granted are things I enjoy bringing up in my classes here in China - such as computers, the internet, and smartphones. I asked my students last month (March 2021) to do a project about where they think technology will be when they are my age – by the way, I’m 58 years young and still ticking. Their reports ranged from cellular-powered planes, driverless passenger drones, underwater cities out at sea, and an international space station on the Moon.
Space travel was a huge topic of interest for my students, who feel that in the not too distant future, they will be able to freely travel anywhere in the world within a few hours due to being able to own their very own spacecraft. One student wrote about artificially intelligent robots. In her vision of the future, you will be able to own an artificially intelligent robot with internet capabilities sort of like having a personal assistant that goes everywhere you go.
On April 21 2020 there was a Hi-Tech Fair in Chongqing China. It was held at the Chongqing National Defense University, a hotbed of Chinese military innovations. These Hi-Tech fairs are ways for companies throughout China to show off their technological innovations to the world.
The Ministry of Public Security was also very excited about revealing their police robot referred to as Anbot. They boasted about how Anbot can patrol autonomously and protect against violence or unrest. The robot is approximately 5 feet tall (1.5 meters) and weighs roughly 165 pounds (78 kg). The robot can understand Chinese and English, but it gives you the feel as if you stepped into a sci-fi film with a more subdued R2D2 from the Star Wars movies.
The robot has enough battery power for 8 hours of operations, autonomous navigation, and intelligent audiovisual analysis. It can reach speeds of 18 KMH (approximately 12 MPH) to chase down fleeing criminals or respond to emergencies. It can also rush over to the scene if a bystander cries for help, and it can even recharge itself without human intervention. In addition to standard police patrolling, the Anbot can undertake riot control, by remotely firing its electroshock weapons.
One fascinating feature is bystanders and civilians can use the Anbot to call for help through an SOS button on the robot’s touchscreen. The National Defense University has programmed the robot to use its audiovisual sensors to recognize and record illegal activities, identify fugitives, and autonomously decide where to patrol. The Anbot has the most advanced facial and audio recognition software so fugitives beware because very soon there will be no hiding in plain sight.
The robot’s electrically charged riot control tools have become somewhat controversial especially among University students who feel it’s being overly emphasized by Anbot’s creators.
The robot has the capability to Taser unruly individuals or uses another device similar to an extendable cattle prod. It has enough room to mount other law enforcement gear, like tear gas canisters and other less-lethal weaponry. One selling tool about the Anbot - it has enough artificial intelligence to respond to situations without fear or hesitation. It is being billed as the first intelligent security robot but it does have its critics.
One obvious drawback is the Anbot is unable to walk up and downstairs. It is unable to apprehend suspects without knocking them off their feet or without using its Tasers. The critics point out that police robots lack social and emotional intelligence, and like all robotic platforms, they are vulnerable to cyber intrusions.
The critics are correct in pointing out that machines are not people. The police robots don’t have the human attributes needed to be effective in apprehending suspects, in analyzing crime scenes, or in responding to the emotional needs of crime victims.
On the other hand, the Anbot needs minimal human supervision, it has autonomous response capabilities, and the ability to find persons of interest by collecting audiovisual information. The Anbot is not designed to fulfill all the needs of law enforcement but rather it’s a hi-tech aid in enforcing the law. The Anbot also has its electrical weaponry for assisting law enforcement officers in riot situations.
I can see police robots, in the not too distant future, taking a more active part for interested police departments not just in China but throughout the world.
What was once science fiction in the world of robotics has now become science reality. I once told my students that very shortly robots may also take up many of our daily household tasks from cleaning our homes to picking up groceries.
Always with love from Suzhou, China
My students also see a brighter future not just for the world of robotics but for human relations both globally and domestically and that is certainly a good thing.
Thomas F O’Neill