Robotic Prison Wardens, Trials Starting in South Korea


Robotic Prison WardenThe city of Pohang in South Korea is best known as home of POSCO, the giant steel manufacturer. In the next few months, however, the city may well lay claim to another reason for being known the world over. That reason is Pohang’s plans to use three guard robots in its prison.

Thus far, this was the stuff of movies; now, reel life gets real. The entire experiment is a study under the aegis of the Asian Forum for Corrections, a South Korea-based group of researchers who specialize in prison policies. Prof. Lee Baik Chu of Kyonggi University is leading the robotics team. The main objective is to use the robots to detect behavioural risks like violence and suicide in a prison setting.

Each robot is about 5’ in height and is specifically designed not to look intimidating. Each of the three robots will be equipped with an array of sensors and cameras and can move about on four wheels, watching prison inmates (perhaps guards too?) for any tell-tale signs of anger, depression and so on, which might be a lead indicator for abnormal or undesirable behaviour.

Should any signs of abnormal behaviour be detected, the robots are programmed to alert the human guards who will continue to be stationed in the prison. The robots will play no other role in isolating the prisoners suspected to show abnormal behaviour and it will be up to the human guards to decide on whether the prisoner is to be isolated or counselled.

I am sure correction facilities and psychologists the world over will be keenly watching the results of this experiment. Who knows, we may soon see robots at Wakefield, Dartmoor or Holloway!

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