Friendly ‘robocop’ set to help police in Hungary

‘It grabs the attention more if a robot is talking’

SZOLNOK: School children listen to a presentation about the internet security given by ‘Robi, the robot’ in their classroom of a primary school. — AFP photo

SZOLNOK, Hungary: A talkative little robot has been enlisted by police in Hungary to help bring an electric jolt to presentations in schools and pensioner clubs. “Hi kids!” said robot “Robi” to a class of primary school children in Szolnok, 100 kilometers east of Budapest. “Some things you need to be careful with when using the internet…” he continued in a tinny voice.

About 40 centimeters tall and 20 wide and weighing 1.6 kilograms, Robi’s 16-part body stood on a table, gesturing as he talks. “It grabs the attention more if a robot is talking,” Robi’s programmer Csaba Erdos, a police educational instructor, told AFP. “It’s a new way of communicating and presenting,” he said. Robi has been operational in the Jasz-Nagykun-Szolnok county since May, and Erdos, 38, said there are plans to have similar robots jumping into action soon around the country. Most weeks Erdos takes Robi with him to help at presentations to school kids and elderly people on themes like crime prevention, digital security and road safety.

During a break to recharge — after 30 minutes of talking Robi needed more power — one boy at the Tiszaparti school told AFP that he hadn’t seen a talking robot before, apart from in the “Transformers” cartoon. “His voice took a while to get used to but I loved it, he was very clever,” said 10-year-old Milan Markus. After the talk, the children laughed as they all tried to mirror his robot moves. Occasionally Robi also greets reporters at press conferences, where he gives advice on how to avoid crimes like break-ins. He can even answer questions, “as long as they are pre-programmed,” said Erdos. Sporting a police logo on his chest, the friendly Robi can also help engender trust in the police, Erdos said. “Robots can be a force for good, helping and supporting people, rather than replacing or threatening them, as they are sometimes portrayed in films, he said. – AFP

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