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“Officer, May I Have Your Processor And Operating System, Please?”

It has become de rigueur for people to ask police for their name and badge numbers when interacting with police.

What happens if you aren’t interacting with an officer, but a robot?

After 16 months of research and development, [Reuben] Brewer –– a senior robotics researcher at the nonprofit SRI International in Menlo Park, California –– has unveiled his solution: a robot that allows police officers to conduct traffic stops without leaving the safety of their vehicle.

“The main advantage of a robot over a human is that physical danger no longer matters,” Brewer wrote after being reached by email. “The robot is purely defensive, so it can’t hurt the motorist. If the motorist damages the robot, it’s only money to replace it.”

“People are more dangerous when they’re scared, so the goal is to remove the possibility of being physically hurt so that they’re less scared and less dangerous,” he added.

It’s an interesting concept, but we’re not sure how it would work in the real world.

In the video, both the police officer and the driver of the car are nice and friendly and understanding of each other.

That’s not real life.

When a vehicle is pulled over, the officer dispatches the GoBetween robot, which is attached to a platform on the driver’s side of the police car, by extending a rolling aluminum track to the motorist’s window. The robot is perched atop the end of the track, which moves forward on a small wheel. At the same time, a spike strip attached to the robot is lowered to the ground and unfolded between the vehicle’s front and rear tires, preventing a potential highway chase. When the encounter is over, the entire contraption retracts and the robot returns to the police car.

With a highway patrol-like helmet perched atop its “head,” the weaponless robot includes two video cameras, a microphone and a speaker that allow the motorist and the officer to speak while looking at one another on a screen. A bar-code scanner allows the machine to input driver license information, a signature pad allows the motorist to sign a ticket, and a printer provides the motorist with a hard copy of the citation. Brewer said future prototypes will include a Passive Alcohol Sensor to “sniff for drunk driving.”

The robot’s senses aren’t as sharp as a human officer’s, Brewer admits, but he believes the technology can get “pretty close” to approximating a person.

Though the robot may reduce the tension that can spiral out of control during a traffic stop, Brewer pointed out his technology cannot remove human bias from interactions between police officers and motorists.

“Whatever inequalities there currently are with police cars pulling over minorities more often will still be there once there’s a robot on their car,” he wrote. ” he difference is that those interactions (however unequal they may be) shouldn’t result in anyone getting hurt or killed.”

While we appreciate the idea that traffic stops are dangerous, we wonder how separating citizens and police from day to day interactions makes things better. Neither the cop nor the citizen would see the other as people.

That may be a mistake in the long run.

Still, the concept is interesting.



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