Friday, May 13, 2005

Kamel, the robot camel jockey - swissinfo

Welcome to Robot Camel Jockey (RCJ) Central. Thank you, TigerHawk, for this important designation.

swissinfo has now provided us with video of a RCJ in live competition with human camel jockeys. No word on the weight, age or nationality of the humans or whether UNICEF was present.

swissinfo writes:

Child jockeys who race camels in the Gulf states could soon be replaced by robots thanks to a Swiss firm, which has developed mechanical camel riders.

K-team was commissioned to build the robots by the state of Qatar, which earlier this year prohibited children under 16 from being used as jockeys.

Team member Alexandre Colot was recently in the capital Doha to assess the performance of a robot called Kamel. He said the trials had been very successful and that the robots were fast catching up with their human counterparts.

"On a three-kilometre track, it ran at a maximum speed of 40km/h. We also did a full race on a five-km track and we were just ten seconds slower than the best time [recorded on that track]," he told swissinfo.

In all, it took one year and $1 million (SFr1.2 million) to develop Kamel in its present form. The project was finished in December 2004, but had to wait for a patent before going public.

"We’ve had ten engineers working on this project, two biologists and one designer, so it’s quite a large amount of work that has been done in one year," explained Colot.

The result is a robot which is designed to look like a small human. It fits into a specially designed saddle and has two arms that can operate the camel’s reins. It is also able to operate a whip.

Instructions are sent to the robot by remote control and walkie-talkie, operated by a camel handler who follows the racers in a vehicle.

The robot is also equipped with a global positioning system satellite beacon, as well as shock absorbers.

The plan is to have 20 robotic jockeys – which each cost around $5,000 - ready for the start of the racing season in October. Moves are already underway to set up an assembly plant, maintenance centre and training institute as a joint venture between Qatar and K-team, said Colot.

"It will take time before all races are run with only robots": Alexandre Colot, K-team


He added that Qatar, which owns the patent on the robot, was also considering selling the idea to other Arab countries where camel racing is popular.

But the engineer said that despite the authorities’ enthusiasm for the project - they want to replace all child jockeys with machines by 2007 - not everyone is so keen on the robots.

The camels have accepted their new mechanical jockeys– after a few teething problems – but the same cannot be said for some of the humans involved in the racing business. Some have expressed concern that robotic jockeys will ruin the lucrative sport, in which winners can pocket thousands of dollars.

What's the economics behind why not everyone in the sport is enthusiastic? Here are some conjectures:

1. Romance. Demand for the sport will wane once the romance of human riding the camels is gone.
2. Erosion of culture. Globalization and technology will infect yet another part of Gulf Arab culture.
3. Fall in value of human capital. Those who have invested in human camel jockeys want to protect their investment. They fear capital-labor substitution.

My money is on #3, the Luddites.

Or is that Luddites-once-removed - it is not the jockeys so much as their long-term leasers.

Note: The local version of bull fighting is also under threat of OSHA-ization.



Blogger secretdubai said...

Not sure that I dare link to this article, but seeing as you're in the US, it's probably safe for you to do so!

Dubai, Dubai - The Scandal and The Vice

4:41 PM  

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