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Daleks, drones, and high-tech cops: Robots come out on top amid coronavirus pandemic

Daleks, drones, and high-tech cops: Robots come out on top amid coronavirus pandemic
As coronavirus lockdowns keep people indoors and physically distant from one another, robots are picking up the slack, doing the jobs humans can’t or won’t do — and keeping their erstwhile masters in line.

You’re not alone when you’re with a drone

The sight of drones flying through cities shouting at residents to wear masks and maintain social distancing — already common during the early weeks of the epidemic in China — has become ubiquitous all over the world, with the airborne babysitters spotted everywhere from West Australia to Manhattan.

While admitting that “using drones with cameras and loudspeakers to fly around to see if people are gathering where they shouldn’t be” was perhaps “a little Orwellian,” drone manufacturer Impossible Aerospace’s Spencer Gore insisted “this could save lives.”

O HAI ROBOCOP

In locked-down Tunis, tank-like robots equipped with cameras have been spotted prowling the streets yelling at humans and demanding to see their authorization for being outdoors.

Unlike their flying cousins, however, videos posted to social media show they can be reasoned with.

Described as “rugged security robot[s] for multi-terrain applications,” the brawny bots are manufactured by Enova Robotics and come equipped with infrared cameras, GPS, laser telemetry, and an audio input so their controllers can lambaste targets remotely. What they lack in speed, they totally make up for in ominousness — though they don’t appear to be armed.

The Daleks have landed

Rather than hide the part they’re playing in imposing a police state, some robots have embraced the dystopian atmosphere of the lockdown. Residents of Robin Hood Bay in the UK were momentarily terrorized when a Dalek — an iconic alien villain from the Dr. Who TV series — rolled through their fishing village, its usual cry of “Exterminate!” replaced by “All humans must keep indoors! All humans must self-isolate, by order of the Daleks!

While no one publicly admitted to ownership of the domineering Dalek, Scotland’s Tayside police retweeted the video, winkingly identifying the mysterious ‘bot as a “Direct Action Local Enforcement Kop” (DALEK).

When you need a robo delivery guy

Other bots seen out and about during the pandemic have more pedestrian uses. Broad Branch Market in Chevy Chase, Maryland began beta-testing boxy bots to make deliveries to customers living within a mile of the store. The low-riding six-wheeled white carts are adorably non-threatening and — to hear local media talk, at least — are even “bringing joy to the neighborhood.”

With delivery workers from Amazon, Whole Foods, Target, and Instacart having walked off the job in the last few weeks to protest working conditions, retailers are likely warming to the idea of deploying a shiny new fleet of obedient, reliable ‘workers’ who never get uppity and start demanding masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer.

Also on rt.com Amazon-owned grocery chain workers stage ‘sickout’ for better safety & benefits as retail giants hit by sweeping strikes

Mr. Clean to the rescue

In the midst of a pandemic, one might expect robots to be sent in to do the dirty jobs no human would risk their life to do, and cleaning hospitals has certainly become one of those jobs. China found the answer to its prayers in the Danish company UVD Robots, which makes advanced cleaner ‘bots capable of deploying high-powered UV radiation. These formidable bots have been used since February to sterilize rooms previously occupied by coronavirus-positive patients, and their use has begun to spread to other countries as well.

Unlike delivery bots or less-advanced cleaning devices, the UV-disinfecting type aren’t taking jobs away from humans — an important consideration given the economic disaster that has accompanied the coronavirus epidemic and put millions out of work. They emit ultraviolet radiation so powerful it can’t be used when humans are in the room, but is very effective for killing microbes, whether they’re viruses or bacteria or fungi. Let’s just hope they don’t go rogue.

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