Can giant robots with a deep voice and massive arms be the answer to easing traffic chaos in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo? A small co-operative called Women’s Technology, which developed the novel solution and is testing two robots at key intersections, thinks so and wants to promote the concept across the country, Africa and the world. Initial feedback is positive, from both the public and officials.
“God bless those who invented it”, said taxi bus driver Franck Mavuzi stuck in traffic. “The robot is good.”
Like many African capitals, Kinshasa, a city of 10 million people, has a reputation for chaotic driving and huge traffic jams. Tricolour traffic lights are rare, many cars are old and battered and not all drivers are mindful of the highway code. And traffic police, who earn minimal salaries, are often accused of extorting money from motorists.
“When the robot stops the traffic you can see that everybody stops and the pedestrians can cross without a problem”, said taxi driver Mavuzi.
TV2Africa complied a news clip illustrating how exactly the Robot works
Beneath a solar panel providing power, the robot on swivels its torso. A green light on its breastplate turns red while it raises an arm, also fitted with lights mimicking a real-live traffic policeman stopping one line of traffic and letting another through.
“There are many robots in the world, but this is a robot handling road safety and traffic control, that’s truly ‘Made in Congo'”, said Kirongozi Theresie of Women’s Technology.
Part of the team is due to show off the creation at international trade fairs in Canada and Switzerland in April. According to Kirongozi a traffic robot costs about $15 000 to build. 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. A sophisticated electronic detection system tells them when pedestrians are waiting to cross a street. Cameras built into its eyes and its shoulders provide constant video footage of traffic flow.
“When the robot captures images, they are sent over the Internet to a centre where they are stored and could be used to prosecute people who have committed offences”, said video surveillance expert Claude Diasuka who is part of the project.
For the moment, all data belongs to Women’s Technology. But pointing to money raked in by Western countries for driving offences, Kirongozi said such a system here could guarantee earnings for communities that want to invest in the robots.
In Kinshasa alone, “we have identified 600 dangerous intersections and complicated places” where robots could be put to work, she said