With a whirr and a click, the cop slides up to the driver’s door. As the driver lowers a window, the cop speaks through a screen and his mechanical form places a spike strip behind the front left tire. The entire interaction — the scanning of registration, the identification of the stop, the printing of a citation and the disengagement — happens through a short-range telepresence robot. The machine whirrs, and the driver-side robot cop slides back to its resting position next to the patrol car.

Designed and built by Reuben Brewer, a Senior Robotics Research Engineer in SRI International’s Advanced Technologies and Sciences Department, the traffic cop bot is explicitly designed to reduce the danger to both cops and civilians that can come from the tense nature of a traffic stop. Brewer cites statistics on traffic stops, highlighting the frequency of physical force used against (and, by well over an order of magnitude less, the amount of times motorists assault officers).

“With such dangerous interactions between people,” writes Brewer, “maybe it's time to send a robot in between them, one that can't hurt or be hurt.”

As military operations transition to stability and support operations, it’s important to both provide security while preserving the lives of all personnel in potentially confrontational interactions. Checkpoints are a traditional and recommended tool for making sure that hazards on the road are caught and anticipated in an area prepared to handle the hazard. Adding a robot that could be the direct intermediary allows the initial checks to still take place, while protecting personnel from the hazards posed by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.

Telepresence robots are hardly new, but there’s a role worth exploring for telepresence robots as the first screen between an armed professional and a person they have to interact with. The distance provided by the GoBetween robot is physical, sure, but it is also emotional. Could people react more calmly to a robot? Maybe, but even if they don’t, the consequences of anger are less fatal than if there are multiple armed people in a tense confrontation mere inches from each other.

The use of a robotic intermediary, either attached to a vehicle or even in a fixed position, could improve outcomes at checkpoints, since at most the immediate danger would be to a robot first and humans second. While many trends in military robotics lend themselves toward speed and quick response, it is the slowness and the distance of the GoBetween that make it interesting in defense applications, should its makers decide to develop it for the military.

Watch a video of it below: