Robocop: Will Driverless Police Vehicles be Rolling Out Soon?

Author: Codie Dukes

Guest Editor: Brittany Torrence

October 12, 2018 2:00pm

Autonomous driving technology has entered the fast lane in recent years. Beginning with automated vehicles manned with a driver, and most recently driverless taxis, is Robocop next? If Ford Motor Company has its way, autonomous police cars will be hitting the pavement soon.

Ford’s Patent Application

A patent application from Ford published earlier this year seeks to bring autonomous vehicles to police fleets, using artificial intelligence to enforce traffic laws. In its application, which was submitted in July, 2016, and only released to the public in January, 2018, Ford proposes a police vehicle that can be operated autonomously.

Highlights of the Autonomous Police Vehicle

In addition to driving on its own, the proposed vehicle will use artificial intelligence to control various on-board speed detection components, including cameras, to capture and pursue speeders in the act.

For example, the vehicles will be equipped with sensors to identify speed and will be equipped to determine where to aim those sensors to accurately monitor traffic. When a motorist violating a traffic law is detected, the autonomous police vehicle will engage in a pursuit. Using cameras and sensors, the police vehicle will monitor and track the movement of the offending vehicle and record its license plate number.

Once the motorist is pulled over, a message will be wirelessly transmitted indicating the violation and capturing an image of the driver’s license for whoever is operating the vehicle. In its application, Ford indicates consumer vehicles may be equipped with a camera to send the image or have a stored image of the license in its database. The “Robocop” will then issue a ticket or a warning, impose a fine, and indicate if and when the vehicle is free to leave.

Alternatively, Ford proposes synchronizing the autonomous police vehicles with remote sensors, such as traffic cameras and roadside sensors. When a traffic camera captures a vehicle’s speeding or running a red light, it will transmit the vehicle information the nearest autonomous police vehicle. To pursue an offending vehicle, the police cars would also be able to utilize traffic cameras to monitor the speed and movement of that vehicle.

Are Humans Ready for Robocop?

Arguably, there are advantages and disadvantages to shifting Robocop into gear. Proponents suggest the “Robocop” autonomous police vehicles reduce safety risks for both officers and motorists by taking over routine police tasks, such as issuing tickets for speeding or rolling through a stop sign, thereby increasing the availability of “human” officers to perform tasks that cannot be automated. The effect of the availability of more “human” officers may be better protection and service to our communities.

Conversely, opponents argue the “human factor” of policing is irreplaceable. Brian Acken, a Senior Law Enforcement Policy Analyst with the nonprofit research institute RTI International stated the following:

While many traffic stops end in a ticket or warning, other stops may require the delivery of emergency medical services, result in the initiation of a search warrant, or identify probable cause for an arrest. The point here is that we need to consider all the possible outcomes of a traffic stop and the value that a police officer brings, including their knowledge, experience, and interpersonal communications skills.

To conclude, humans want progressive changes, but is the U.S. ready for the automation of law enforcement on the roads? Whether you are in favor of Robocop or not, it appears autonomous police vehicles are the next logical extension of the autonomous vehicle boom.

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