The world established in Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 social satire RoboCop may soon be a reality. Researchers at Florida International University’s Discovery Lab are working on building new technology to help bring the disabled police officers and soldiers back to the work force by giving them a robotic boost to serve and protect the public.
According to Cnet.com, Florida International University researchers are working with U.S. Navy Reserves to bring this new technology to work in real-world applications. These robots would be remotely controlled by the disabled to do “everything from responding to 911 calls and writing parking tickets to ensuring the security of nuclear facilities.” This could mean a great deal to technology, manufacturing, and law enforcement.
At the moment, Lieutenant Commander Jeremy Robins is working with Discovery Lab researchers and engineers to design this new brand of “RoboCops.” The design has to be stern enough to take seriously but pleasant enough to comfortably approach. Robins explains:
The telebot has to look intimidating and authoritative enough so that people obey its commands — because of course it’s not the telebot telling you what to do, it’s the disabled police officer controlling the telebot who’s telling you what to do. On the flip side, it has to be approachable enough so that a lost 3-year-old feels comfortable coming up to the telebot and asking for help finding her mother. That’s a challenging design problem, and one which I’m sure will take many iterations before we get it perfectly right.
But where could these new “RoboCops” be deployed? There is some speculation, if the research at Florida International University’s Discovery Lab is successful, they could have real-life applications right away. Camden, New Jersey recently fired a large swath of unionized police officers to make way for non-unionized officers. This is exactly what happened in Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop, only city officials are not turning to evil corporations to solve their policing problems. Rather, Camden may turn to science and technology. As the Huffington Post reports:
John Williamson, president of the city’s police union, said the scarcity of details available about the new agency was a clear sign that residents were being used in a large-scale experiment in public safety with uncertain consequences.
‘This plan is unproven, untested and unstudied,’ Williamson said. ‘They’re playing mad scientist with people’s lives.’
It’s unclear if replacing able-bodied police officers with robotic ones is an ethical decision in the social-political economic climate we’re living in today. Are people ready to be comfortable around robots on a day-to-day basis, especially when our lives are in their hands? Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop was a cautionary tale about greed, corruption, and the over-reliance on technology. Perhaps we should adhere to what the movie RoboCop is about, rather than create our own fleet of “RoboCops.”