On April 21, at the 12th Chongqing Hi-Tech fair, the National Defense University, a hotbed of Chinese military innovations, debuted the world’s first armed (albeit less than lethal) police robot. The Ministry of Public Security was very excited about the Anbot. As People’s Daily extols, “AnBot is able to patrol autonomously and protect against violence or unrest.”
The 1.5 meter tall, 78 kg Anbot looks like a cross between Star Wars‘ R2D2 and Doctor Who‘s Daleks, with a touchscreen on top. It has enough battery power for 8 hours of operations, autonomous navigation and intelligent video analysis, and can reach speeds of 18 kmh to chase down fleeing criminals or respond to emergencies. The Anbot can also rush over to the scene if a bystander cries for help, and it can even recharge itself without human intervention (bad news in the event of a robot uprising). NDU promises that in addition to standard police patrolling, the Anbot can undertake riot control, by remotely firing its electroshock weapons (or by running over unruly protesters).
While police and prison robot prototypes have been with us for quite a while now, Anbot has several features to take robotic law enforcement up a notch. Bystanders and civilians can use the Anbot to call for help through an SOS button on the Anbot’s touchscreen. NDU also has programmed the Anbot to use its audio and visual sensors to recognize and record illegal activities, identify fugitives, and autonomously decide where to patrol.
Anbot’s most controversial feature is naturally the onboard “electrically charged riot control tool” (likely a Taser or extendable cattle prod). This can only be fired by the Anbot’s human remote operators (it seems that just like the U.S. military, Chinese policemen do not yet feel comfortable giving armed robots the autonomous capability to fire their weapons). The Anbot’s large size means that it has room to mount other law enforcement gear, like tear gas canisters and other less lethal weaponry.
While billed as the “first intelligent security robot,” Anbot will not be a replacement for human police anytime soon. In addition to the obvious need for human policemen to chase after any criminals able to walk up stairs, Anbot’s limitations also include human social and emotional intelligence, apprehending suspects (as opposed to knocking them down), and like all robotic platforms, vulnerability to cyber intrusions. However, with its need for minimal human supervision, autonomous response, ability to find persons of interest and collect audiovisual information, and its electrical weaponry, Anbot will be a potential force multiplier for any interested police departments, and as People’s Daily cites, will “play an important role in enhancing the country’s anti-terrorism and anti-riot measures.”
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