Military and Police

Robot Traffic Cops Coming to a Town Near You?

Nope! But the folks at ZDNet who published a story on May 15, 2019 would have you believe cops are bad and robots are wonderful in ways, to include replacing human counterpart cops because, as the author wrote, “anything that might, just might, begin to reduce the number of senseless deaths when police encounter drivers surely has to be worth trying.” Indeed, both the police officer and the motorist exercising professionalism duty and civil responsibility would be ideal. Indeed, the bedrock of our republic. However, it is unfortunate that some motorists pay little heed to the lanes’ painted lines, encroach on space of other drivers, and then conduct roadside spats with traffic cops (real ones) who observe said violations and address (enforce) that seemingly simple traffic infraction.

The inflammatory tone within the ZDNet article is preposterous. It goes on to state that “Robocop isn’t going to pull a gun on you. He doesn’t come to you with the possibility of an aggressive, threatening posture. The conversation can remain civil.” Sweet little robot; what a darling thing.

If only motorists who do possess a hostile attitude well before the gear is in Park can somehow take the lesson from Robocop and merely play nice.

So, just what the heck is this Robocop concept being marketed to police departments? Well, the actual robotic mechanism counters every officer safety principle on the planet. Robot traffic cops is the brainchild of a senior robotics researcher based in Silicon Valley. Robocop creator Reuben Brewer somehow had the notion that robot traffic cops instead of human ones would enhance traffic stops by alleviating dangers upon U.S. streets. I’m in on that notion, but his idea discounts the barbarism otherwise occupying cars and tooling around town looking for trouble. Cops get to address these sorts. In that regard, a robot donning a police helmet will be a laugh to the monsters instigating woes on public streets. I can see vandalism scaring them to do the right thing. Not really.

Mr. Brewer named his traffic bot the GoBetween and explained what he feels is the psychology between motorists and cops during traffic stops: “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.” Not entirely accurate and not completely false either. Some folks spook (spike) when in fear and do boneheaded things, while still others exercise patience and critical-thinking skills resulting in a civil interaction. The former can escalate and gets citizens and cops killed; the latter transcends decent interplay and assurances of public safety, the very thing we all wish for (except those barbaric types who thrive on tyranny.

Nothing ever has to burst, yet it sometimes does…and lately it is all the cop’s fault—the media says so, so it must be true. Right? No inanimate object such as a robot is going to overcome any of the lawlessness out there, the responsibility of which falls to cops who can physically subdue the crisis before it breaches the innocence of any among the populace.

The cover photo shows a limited scope. Here is the profile appearance and other live-action demo dynamics of the robotic contraption proposed for law enforcement use:

In design and intent, me thinks the GoBetween robot is a cumbersome composition. Oh, the physics of it. Its overall presence does everything to defeat the police in pursuits. Don’t get me started on centrifugal and centripetal forces. I guess this is what happens when an engineer tinkering with machinery and gadgets while tainted by the misguiding media propagating cops as heartless killers conjures solutions, drastic ones.

Just looking at the machinations around, under, and astride the would-be police cruiser makes me cringe with a risk-management mindset forged in enforcing public safety concepts. After viewing the demo, I can easily scroll out a long list of traffic safety and “unsafe equipment” laws already on the books, most if not all being violated by the likes of the GoBetween mechanisms and moving parts, whether the police car is mobile or stationary. Law enforcement agencies are already burdened with ubiquitous liability concerns. Cops need fewer headaches, not more.

No idea what the price tag is. And I highly doubt it will ever come to fruition on American streets and implemented by cops who must unfailingly hone officer safety tactics in addition to ensuring citizens’ safety. This thing impedes much of that traditional concept. However, speaking of officer safety, I can see one benefit to using the GoBetween robot traffic cop: It blocks would-be armed anti-cop drivers from exiting and blasting a fusillade of bullets in the direction of the human cop.

Even the aforementioned factor counters the strategic positioning of police cruisers—yet another officer safety tactic to stay alive and out of the direct line of fire. The demo video portrays the quasi-cop car virtually kissing the rear bumper of the traffic violator’s vehicle. Is there a distance limitation compelling this? If so, distance is a mainstay among cops based on the staying-alive thing. Also, the straight-away rails along which the robot traverses is contrary to how police officers stage their cruisers—angled wheels must be offset for officer safety purposes (yes, that phrase keeps popping up). By now you’ve likely extrapolated various mentions of “officer safety,” defining the very dangerous nature of police work, perils of which ensue during “routine traffic stops” which in a nanosecond can mutate into anything but routine.

Here we have yet another citizen espousing enhanced police procedures without having a lick of knowledge and/or experience doing the job. It is easy to force your hand into the police playbook, but understanding why law enforcement does what it does and how it needs to be done is, as usual, wittingly or unwittingly overlooked or undermined.

Think cops are cold-blooded statues wantonly destroying humans for innocuous traffic reasons? Consider a ride-along so that you can have an un-Hollywood-like decent dose of reality and reset of the drawing board.

Incidentally, wouldn’t it be nice if the motorist’s personality depicted in the promo video above was contagious among drivers all across the globe? Utopia would have zero need for robocops…and perhaps no reason for human ones either. Yet we’re not close to utopia and nuts and bolts do not match up with our species’ vast capabilities, including corrective measures having nothing to do with oiling the gears.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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