Traffic robots in Kinshasa

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The Traffic Robot being presented to Dr. Jill Biden and Cathy Russell by Thérèse Izay Kirongozi in Kinshasa in July 2014.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, robot traffic officers are becoming more common. Authorities felt that they needed an innovative intervention to tackle the traffic problems in the city, so they enlisted a local inventor, Thérèse Izay Kirongoza, to develop humanoid robots that would regulate traffic.[1] After two prototypes were installed in 2013, three "new generation" robots were delivered to the capital in March, and five to the Katangese authorities, including three in Lubumbashi. The robots have red stop warning lights on the front and back of their torso, with green proceed lights on their arms. They rotate periodically to control traffic flow across a crossroads. They also carry TV cameras to record traffic violations. A claimed advantage of the robots is that, unlike local traffic police, they are immune to bribery. Their human-like appearance is also considered to encourage drivers to slow down more than a simple sign. They cost between 10,000 and 20,000 USD each, including the cost of maintenance.

Inventor[edit]

Thérèse Izay, an engineer from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, designed traffic robots that were initially placed in two locations in Kinshasa[2] towards the end of 2013.[3] By 2015 five robot traffic police were in use in Kinshasa[4] and one in Lubumbashi.[5] The use of robots as traffic lights may be unique to the Democratic Republic of Congo.[2] [note 1] Izay hopes the government will help by providing funds to produce more robots.[2]

The robots have red stop warning lights on the front and back of their torso, with green proceed lights on their arms. They rotate periodically to control traffic flow across a crossroads. They also carry TV cameras to record traffic violations. A claimed advantage of the robots is that, unlike local traffic police, they are immune to bribery.

Early life[edit]

During a press interview, Izay revealed that she did not expect to have such an aura in the field of technology, although she had always dreamed of inventing a device that would reduce the rate of road accidents, since she saw her brother crushed by a vehicle in her early childhood. This shock of losing a being so dear following a road traffic regulation problem will never leave her again and will be her leitmotif in the electronic world. Thus, when in 1993, when she had just blown her twentieth candle and expected to embrace the modeling career, the young Izay quickly responded to the call of a model recruitment agency in Switzerland who sparked a better tomorrow. She had to disappoint after the illusion of "mirificent contracts". "Finally, my father enrolled me at ISTA, while I wanted to pursue my studies in Europe, in another area, and I mistakenly thought that industrial electronics would not solve my problems," she recalls. an interview with pan-African magazine Jeune Afrique.[6]

Education[edit]

Thérèse Izay is a pure product of the Congolese school. She did all her studies in Kinshasa, her hometown, before starting, without enthusiasm, undergraduate studies at the Higher Institute of Applied Techniques (Ista). Nothing predestined her for a career as inventor and entrepreneur. [7]

Reception[edit]

The local population has accepted the robots enthusiastically.[2][4] An editorial writer, Sam Sturgis, while acknowledging the improvement the robots bring to traffic flow, suggested that they may divert attention from the problem of the unregulated growth of the city on the periphery.[8]

Innovations, cost and designs[edit]

Thérèse has developed humanoid robots that regulate traffic in Kinshasa (the capital city). "There are several robots in the world, but a robot that regulates road traffic and ensures the safety of pedestrians, it's really made in Congo," she proudly says. [9] She is an industrial engineer in electronics, and the head of Women's Technology (Wotech), the association that is manufacturing these robots. There are at least 5 of them that are regulating traffic in Kinshasa. The first generation of robots was commissioned in 2013 and cost about 15,000 dollars each to manufacture, while the latest generation unveiled on march 4, 2015, cost about 27,500 dollars each. They weigh 250 kg each, are 2.5 meters high and are made of aluminium to better withstand the equatorial climate. The autonomy of the robots is provided by a solar panel placed over their head. The solar panels that power the robots could prove a major asset in a city where whole districts still lack electrical power. Made of aluminium, the robots are designed to resist a harsh equatorial climate with high temperatures, humidity and massive downpours. [10] These humanoid traffic robots can rotate their chest and raise their arms like a human traffic officer would do to stop vehicles in one direction, and allow their flow in another one. Some of these robots can detect pedestrians and are programmed to “speak” to tell them when the road can be crossed or not. When they wait to cross, he sings a song that recalls the principles of road traffic. [11]

The new generation of robots conceived by the inventor has cameras set in their “eyes” and “shoulders” that film traffic continuously. Thanks to the antenna fixed on top of their head, data can be transmitted to a control center via an Internet Protocol (IP) transmission. Thérèse Izay is already envisioning the manufacturing of robot soldiers, road cleaning robots, robots that can intervene in a toxic environment, etc. She is the proof that women have an important role to play in the industrialization process of the African continent, and that they are just as talented as men. [12] The first goal is to implement the humanoid robots all around Kinshasa, but to achieve this, according to some experts, it is necessary to mobilize 12 million US dollars, because Kinshasa has about 600 strategic and dangerous intersections, the price of a robot oscillating between 10,000 and 20,000 USD, including the cost of maintenance. [13]

Expansion and projects[edit]

After two prototypes installed in 2013, three "new generation" robots were delivered to the capital in March, and five to the Katangese authorities, including three in Lubumbashi. "This is a positive thing ... in the business of road safety," said Val Manga, head of the National Road Safety Commission. "We need to multiply these intelligent robots to install them at various intersections in the towns and urban agglomerations of our country. [14] The selling price of a unit is around 25,000 dollars (about 22,000 euros) and varies according to the autonomy of its solar panels. Society does not fall asleep on its laurels; the company is developing and evolving its technology. "The robot sends the police, in real time, the images filmed by its cameras. We use a radio beam, but eventually we will switch to fiber optics. The transmission of images will be much faster, "says the project manager. Several other Congolese cities want to acquire these automata. And Women's Technologies also intends to export. Angola, Congo, Ivory Coast and Nigeria are interested. When is the presence of the first humanoid agents made in DR Congo in these countries? "The talks are very advanced," says the head of the company. [15]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Anthropomorphic, non-robotic figures have often been used, notably in Germany, to indicate roadworks. Their human-like appearance is considered to encourage drivers to slow down more than a simple sign.

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