Traffic Robots Help Keep Congo’s Streets Safe

The giant automatons are bringing order to the capital city’s former traffic chaos.
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The giant automatons are bringing order to the capital city’s former traffic chaos.
Official White House Photo by David Lienemann

Dr. Jill Biden and Cathy Russell, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, are briefed by Therese Izay Kirongozi, during a tour of the Kinshasa Traffic Robot Lab, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, July 4, 2014. Robots are being developed to aid pedestrians in crossing congested streets (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Dismayed by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s growing number of traffic violations and the ensuing bribes for police to overlook the penalties, a group of female engineers discovered one device that commands respect for the law: Traffic robots.

The 8-foot tall solar-powered structures look straight out of a sci-fi movie as they loom over the busiest intersections of Congo’s capital city Kinshasa. Equipped with surveillance cameras to send video to police and a swiveling torso to oversee roads, the robots also act as traffic lights and ensure safer pedestrian crossings.

So far, the results have turned out exactly as the engineers had hoped. According to The Guardian, the overall feedback from Congolese motorists is that the robots seem to be having a positive effect. Perhaps it’s the threat of getting a ticket from an aluminum automaton that doesn’t acknowledge under-the-table cash. Or maybe it’s the robots’ austere gaze. Whatever the reason, the Congolese government has been so pleased with the results that they recently installed three more robots with a price tag of $27,500 each, bringing the capital’s total number to five.

The robots aren’t without their critics. GOOD reported that some claim the robots are distracting from the country’s need for better infrastructure (for a population of 67.5 million, the nation has a grand total of 74 traffic lights). Others also worry about the upkeep of the robots.

For now, any improvement to Congo’s traffic woes seems to be a welcome change and, with it, comes plans to expand the robots’ territory. Thérèse Izay Kirongozi, the president of Woman’s Technology (the group that developed the robots), told The Guardian that a proposal has been submitted for commissioning 30 more to monitor the country’s highways.