​Robocops are on the beat: But here's why they're no match for your average criminal

Dubai reckons robots will make up 25 percent of its police force by 2030, but experts aren't so sure.
Written by Anna Solana, Contributor

The REEM robots from Barcelona recently bought by Dubai police will help with remote monitoring and providing information to the public.

Image: PAL Robotics

Thirty years after Paul Verhoeven's Robocop movie, it's still science fiction. Police robots, such as the REEM models that Catalan company PAL Robotics recently sold to Dubai police, do have a role but it's a limited one.

REEM is 170cm tall and weighs 100kg (5ft 7in, 220lb). Thanks to its autonomous navigation system, touchscreen, and voice- and face-recognition features, it can find its way around various locations and respond to specific questions about directions, the weather, nearby restaurants, and airline travel times.

It can also transport small packages and offer remote assistance via videoconferencing with a human police officer.

At last year's Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona, REEM welcomed visitors to the Dubai booth with a polite "I am Dubai Police robot. How can I help you?" and these days it is proving a success at a London Science Museum exhibition about the 500-year quest to make machines human.

But these humanoid machines are far from having human-like capacities. Ramon López de Mántaras, research professor at the Spanish National Research Council and director of the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute, says: "People talk about robotics as if all the problems have already been solved, but that's not true."

"By 2030, artificial intelligence will be more generic than now but it will remain very different from human intelligence."

Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Corporation executive Carlos Domingo says: "Today robots are not sufficiently developed to replace a human policeman, given the variety of tasks an officer has to perform. Robots may work for specific tasks like monitoring and as support for human police officers but not as a replacement."

Earlier this summer, Dubai police said robots will make up 25 percent of its force by 2030, but professor López de Mántaras doubts it.

"Although technically feasible, it doesn't make sense for machines to make certain decisions," he says.

"For a human, the principle of proportionality or how to apply a just answer to each situation is already complex. For a machine it's almost impossible right now."

PAL Robotics started in 2004, when a small group of engineers built the first fully autonomous humanoid biped robot in Europe. It's headquartered in the 22@ technological district in Barcelona.

The original REEM dates back to 2006, but since then PAL Robotics has developed more advanced models. The most advanced is TALOS, a biped, humanoid robot which speaks nine languages and is equipped with sensored torque control in all its joints, enabling it to conduct heavy tasks, such as drilling, and walk at a gentle 3kph/2mph.

At €925,000 ($1.054m), it's also more expensive than the €185,000 ($210,000) REEM, but it's available to rent too.

PAL Robotics' other models include the REEM-C, a biped version of REEM for research, and the mobile TIAGO service robot, which stands for 'Take it and go'. There's also the STOCKBOT, which can do daily inventory in stores and warehouses.

All the models are designed and built in PAL Robotics' Barcelona site and are open source, so they're fully customizable.

"Anyone, anywhere in the world, can develop and test applications that will work in real life," the company says. The machines are modular, and the mobile base unit used by several models is also sold as a PMB-2 independent robot.

PAL Robotics' CEO says the company sells its products to 35 countries and sees itself as an R&D company, collaborating with other firms, research institutions, and universities around the world in a variety of fields such as vision, navigation, and walking, and sectors including healthcare, manufacturing, retail, banking, aerospace, and logistics.

He believes that collaborative humanoids will become more prevalent in our daily lives because "we already use vacuum cleaners, self-checkouts and automatic dispensers."

"Our inventory-taking robot, STOCKBOT, is now known as an autonomous 3D inventorying system, rather than a robot," he says.

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