Eventually, it happens to every motorist — you get pulled over for a traffic violation. These days, with COVID-19 and social distancing called for in nearly every situation, the ability to perform a traffic stop remotely could increase safety and comfort for everyone involved.
A robot cop, complete with helmet
SRI’s new GoBetween robot may provide the answer. The new robotic system is an intermediary that facilitates the conversation between the officer and the motorist while both remain in a position of safety. The system comes complete with a helmet perched atop the robot’s head to resemble a highway patrolman.
Specifically, the system:
- Maintains a safe distance between the officer and motorist, thus avoiding potential risk
- Reduces the likelihood of the officer being struck by an oncoming car
- Prevents the driver from easily exiting the car
- Prevents the vehicle from fleeing the scene
GoBetween’s developer is Reuben Brewer, a Senior Robotics Research Engineer at SRI. Brewer started the project in his garage after hearing story after story of both officers and motorists injured or killed during routine traffic stops.
Brewer was about 75% complete with the project when he joined SRI, where he acquired the necessary funding to finish the prototype. “SRI is one of the last remaining places in the world where you can actually work on your own idea and turn it into something, and that really appeals to me,” Brewer explained. This is not only part of SRI’s identity, this type of R&D is in SRI’s DNA.
A history of helpful robots from SRI
The GoBetween robot is the latest in a series of world-changing robotic solutions from SRI that have helped make people safer by changing the nature of human intervention. In the realm of medical technology, SRI spin-out Intuitive Surgical and its popular daVinci surgical robot, a surgeon-controlled device, is now used in thousands of hospitals around the world to perform minimally invasive surgeries. SRI also developed the outer space robot Qbot from Taurus; the dual arm robot assists humans with complex operations like in-space equipment assembly and satellite inspection and repair.
A collaboration between SRI and Enaex (a subsidiary of the Sigdo Koppers Group) produced Robominer®, the teleoperated robot used for safer exploration and mining of rare hard-to-reach minerals. Robominer comes complete with arm manipulation, 3D vision, topography capabilities and gas and temperature monitoring.
One-on-one, from a distance
The GoBetween’s name comes from its purpose to “go between” the officer and motorist, keeping both parties safe and comfortable. The robotic arm deploys from the police car and extends to the driver side window. As it deploys, it places spikes between the front and rear tires to prevent the motorist’s vehicle from fleeing the scene. The robot’s camera and microphone provide the face-to-face interaction that is crucial for empathetic communication between the officer and motorist.
The motorist is able to scan a driver’s license using the robot’s barcode scanner and hold the registration papers up to the camera for the officer to see. The motorist signs the citation on the robot’s signature pad, and a small printer inside the GoBetween prints out the ticket.
Continuing the mission of public safety
The GoBetween robot has received positive feedback from police departments, as well as civil rights organizations. For years, police departments have used robots to assist in hazardous situations, and departments are looking to add this type of technology to their continued mission of ensuring public safety. Getting an initial assessment of a particular environment, before sending in actual people, keeps everyone safe.
Next up for the GoBetween is testing in real-life traffic stops to determine how motorists respond to the machine. Brewer is looking for police departments interested in helping test the prototype.
The road ahead for GoBetween
Brewer has several improvements planned for the next-generation prototype, including better weatherproofing for the robot, switching to a foldable-arm design to make the unit more compact, and adding the ability to operate the robot from a mobile phone app. The system needs to be more robust as it must be able to take off at a moment’s notice and withstand high speeds on the road. Rather than being stored on the side of the police car, Brewer plans to move the GoBetween to the front of the police car to be stored in the “Bull bar”, the standard steel barrier on most police vehicles. Brewer plans to add optical character recognition (OCR) to automatically scan insurance and registration paperwork and make the traffic stop go faster, as well as a passive alcohol sensor to detect “buzzed” drivers.
In a time when police-community interactions and social-distancing are top of mind, the GoBetween may be the right robot at the right time, giving everyone the breathing room they need to stay safe.