If any place in the world is moving towards a Bladerunner-esque, sci-fi future, it's Dubai. From a fleet of supercars that enlist the assistance of Crime Prediction software in preventing crime to their jet-pack riding firefighters, this is a city that isn't afraid to embrace 21st century technology. Now it is introducing robots into its police force with the first cop-bot starting work this week and plans for 25 percent of its force to be robotic by 2030.
The initial robocop introduction will come in the form of REEM, a humanoid robot from Spanish outfit PAL Robotics. REEM was first launched back in 2011 essentially as a customizable service robot on a wheeled base designed to act as a high-tech interactive info booth for airports, museums or hospitals.
Dubai Police worked with PAL Robotics to refine the REEM design for their purposes and unveiled an adapted version in late 2016. In a recent interview with CNN, Brigadier Khalid Nasser Alrazooqi, head of the police robot project, revealed that the robocop will initially be rolled out in shopping centers and at tourist attractions before being moved into police stations to act as receptionists. Citizens will be able to pay fines, report crimes and generally conduct an assortment of initial, first-encounter police interactions.
"We are looking to have more robots in future to handle policing," the director of the Future Shaping Centre of Dubai Police, Brigadier Abdullah Bin Sultan, said in an announcement in March reported by Gulf News. "By 2030, we are keen to make robots around 25 per cent of the total police force."
While this initial robotic introduction to Dubai's police ranks is fairly modest, mobile robotic cops are apparently on the cards. The Dubai Police is expecting to reveal a prototype mobile police robot by 2020, and also aims to have a human-free police station manned completely by robots by 2030.
The impressive ambitions of Dubai's police aside, there are a host of ethical and practical issues in actually moving to a world where autonomous robots detain or arrest people on the streets. In the meantime, though, we can definitely see robot receptionists taking over the dry admin tasks in police stations or the boring surveillance activities of mall cops. So in the short term at least, the future may be less Robocop and more Paul Blart: Mall Robocop.