Robots to patrol jails at night
Robot guards will patrol jail corridors as early as next year, lifting the burden off human prison guards.
The Ministry of Knowledge and Economy will invest 1 billion won in the project to develop the robot guards with the Asian Forum for Corrections (AFC), a private institute, undertaking and overseeing the development of four-wheeled security robots.
AFC Chairman Lee Baik-chul, also a professor at the Department of Corrections at Kyonggi University, said the robots will perform simple tasks such as patrolling during night hours and this will significantly help human prison guards focus on other more complex tasks.
“It’s at night when problems can occur. The robots will watch for any signs of suicide attempts or physical attacks on prisoners instead of the human guards. This will allow the human guards to work on more difficult problems such as educational work and counseling,” said Lee.
The robot guard project began as Lee suggested a correctional function be applied to robots for a research project. “I thought, if robots could patrol jails, it would tremendously help ensure safety in prisons,” he said.
The Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute and SMEC, a robot manufacturing company in North Gyeongsang Province, are also taking part in the project.
They will initially develop three robots. The robots will be able to observe their surroundings through visual software installed in their “face.” The software is an improved version of surveillance cameras.
“When the robot sees something unusual, it will report to the central control facility which will then take action,” Lee said. “These robots can also be a communicating device between the prisoners and the guards. The robots have a speaker and microphone installed on their bodies so that when a prisoner speaks, the guard at the central tower can respond and vice versa.”
Lee said the robot will be able to speak a few sentences. It will be about 150 centimeters tall and weigh between 70 to 80 kilograms. The production of the techno-guards will be completed by next March and three sample robots will be sent to a prison in Pohang for a one-month trial.
“We developed the robot after visiting a few prisons in person and taking a look at the facilities. Since these robots can’t be operated in the older facilities, we developed it to suit some of the newer ones,” said Lee.
When the trial period is over, the Ministry of Justice will decide whether to adopt these robots for use in other prisons.
At a forum today at COEX in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul, professors and researchers from various industries and officials from the Ministry of Justice’s correctional department will discuss the “future of correctional science and the development of robots as assistant prison guards.”
“We will make a presentation on the progress of the robot’s development, what prison guards think of the robot adoption and whether it will be possible to utilize the visual technology in the future,” said Lee.